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“Neighbour Rosicky” (1928)

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1 “Neighbour Rosicky” (1928)
Willa Cather

2 Willa Cather (1) American regionalist and modernist, author of My Antonia (1916), Death Comes for the Archbishop (1925), The Professor’s House (1927) and other novels. Born 1873, Back Creek Valley, Virginia At age 10, moved with family to Webster County, Nebraska, “the Divide”


4 Willa Cather (2) The theme of uprooting or exile became a central one in Cather’s fiction “I was little and homesick and lonely So the country and I had it out together and by the end of the first autumn the shaggy grass country had gripped me with a passion that I have never been able to shake. It has been the happiness and curse of my life.”


6 Willa Cather (3) After a year, the Cathers settled in Red Cloud, Nebraska, the basis for many small towns in Cather’s fiction—including the town in “Rosicky” In Nebraska, Willa met immigrants from France, Germany, Scandinavia, Bohemia, and Russia



9 “Neighbour Rosicky”: Family Conflict (1)
A story of family conflict set against the larger American story of immigrants coming from the big cities of Europe and the U.S. east coast and settling on the American prairie An immigrant Bohemian farmer in Nebraska is nearing the end of his life, remembering the important events of his life

10 “Neighbour Rosicky”: Family Conflict (2)
He tries to control his family’s future by ensuring that his sons stay on the farmland he settled, rather than move to the city He tries to make his non-immigrant daughter-in-law feel part of the family

11 Rosicky as Immigrant boyhood in rural Bohemia (through age 12)
teenage years in London’s Cheapside, poor tailor’s apprentice (age 12-20) single, young adult life in New York, tailor, learned English (age 20-35) later life as Nebraska farmer, a family man and landowner (age 35-65) (Rosickys based on Cather’s Nebraska acquaintances John & Annie Pavelka)



14 Immigrant life/Modernist structure (1)
Rosicky’s life unfolds in the story not chronologically but according to Rosicky’s memories—modernist structure Unity is not chronological but thematic: decisive moments that define Rosicky’s values See p. 1129, sec. III, para. 3: “While he sewed, he let his mind run back over his life ”

15 Immigrant life/Modernist structure (2)
Tailoring and remembering: As Rosicky patches his family’s clothes, he patches together his life July 4, #1: Central event: see p. 1130, para. 3: “But as the years passed, all alike, he began to get a little restless ” (through end of section III) New York “cemented you away from” ground Earliest memories of Bohemian farm Rosicky a “very simple man” (1131)

16 Immigrant life/Modernist structure (3)
July 4, #2: See p. 1135, 2nd to last para.: “‘Nothin’,” he says, ‘but it’s pretty hot. . .” (through middle p. 1136) Rosicky’s personal expression of freedom/independence: nakedness Enjoying what you have

17 Country vs. City A major theme in Rosicky’s life
The problems of the city vs. benefits of the country: see p. 1138, last para. “Sitting beside the flowering window. . .” (through p. 1139, para. 2) Country life allows privacy: an American value However, New York is first portrayed positively (see top of p. 1130)

18 George Bellows, Cliff Dwellers, 1913

19 Childe Hassam, Union Square in Spring, 1896


21 Immigrant vs. “American”
Polly “was sensitive about marrying a foreigner” (1132) “Generally speaking, marrying an American girl was a risk. A Czech should marry a Czech” (1133) See p. 1136, 3rd para. from bottom: “When [Rudolph’s] mother sent over a coffee-cake or prune tarts or a loaf of fresh bread, Polly seemed to regard them with a certain suspicion.”

22 Marriage as social unifier
The marriage of Rosicky and his wife Mary brings together city and country people. See p. 1128, last para. “He was fifteen years older than Mary. . .” In the new generation, the marriage between Rudolph and Polly brings together “American” and immigrant


24 Rosicky & Polly (1) Rosicky reassures Polly. See p. 1132, 3rd para. from bottom: “That kind, reassuring grip on her elbows. . .” Rosicky tells the story of his London experience, in English, for Polly ( ) Polly rescues Rosicky when he suffers a heart attack, calls him “Father.” See middle of p. 1140: “Lean on me, Father, hard! Don’t be afraid.”

25 Rosicky & Polly (2) Rosicky guesses, correctly, that Polly is pregnant
Polly contemplates Rosicky’s hand. See p. 1141, middle para. The hand embodies Rosicky’s gift for loving people “It brought her to herself; it communicated some direct and untranslatable message.”

26 Framing Consciousness: Doc Ed (1)
Doctor Ed Burleigh: the first and last character in the story: framing consciousness Visits graveyard after Rosicky’s death. See page 1142, last three para.: “Doctor Ed was way when Rosicky died ” Recalls earlier scene when Rosicky contemplated graveyard: See p. 1126, final para.: “After they had gone eight miles. . .” (through p. 1127, para. 3)


28 Framing Consciousness: Doc Ed (2)
Why a doctor? Cather “played” at being a doctor when she was young, and wanted to become a doctor Doc Ed cannot heal Rosicky’s body, but his consciousness can “patch together” his life and see it as “complete and beautiful”

29 Cather, age 13

30 Rosicky as a work of modernism
Cather wrote, “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts” “Neighbour Rosicky” (1928) tries to unify a broken world through the life a man who bridges contradictions: immigrant/American; city/country, etc. The story is concerned with how Rosicky’s life gives meaning to others, through storytelling, the body, and the landscape

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