Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
Chapter Fifteen: Death-Defying Women: Art and Transcendence in Cather
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Art and Transcendence in Cather
DEBRA L. CUMBERLAND
A quick glance through Willa Cather’s oeuvre indicates that there is no shortage of death throughout her novels and short stories. People die in myriad ways in her fiction, many of deaths quick, messy, and violent. In My Ántonia, a tramp gets sliced up in the thresher; Mr. Shimerda, Ántonia’s father, commits suicide by blowing his brains out all over the barn. In The Song of the Lark, a tramp throws himself into the community’s water supply; in the process, he contaminates the community’s water and kills many others, while Ray Kennedy gets smashed by a train. Paul in “Paul’s Case” commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. Emil and Marie in O Pioneers! are shot and killed by Marie’s jealous and controlling husband Frank; Claude in One of Ours is killed in France during World War I. Rosicky in “Neighbour Rosicky” dies of a heart attack. Bartley Alexander of Alexander’s Bridge drowns. In Cather’s fiction, death is an ever-present reality; Cather makes no attempt to sugarcoat it. Reading Cather, then, can give us a good idea of her attitudes towards life’s final, inevitable journey.
The characters listed here offer a few distinctions in their attitudes towards death. What they share is an acceptance of the inevitability of death. Where they differ is in how their approach to this inevitability...
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