Sunday, August 18, 2019

Willa Cathers Death Comes for the Archbishop: Powerful Prose :: Willa Cather Death Comes for the Archbishop

Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop: Powerful Prose It is understandable that some early twentieth-century critics of Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop said that the "'book is hard to classify,'" and "that it is not a novel" (On Writing 12). At that time, novels generally were written with a recognizable structure, with character development as a focus and chronology as a central organizational strategy (Harmon 350). In Death Comes for the Archbishop the central character's changes are subtle and relational, while the chronology sometimes seems random and unpredictable. Cather's preference to call her work "a narrative," a term usually contained within the definition of "a novel," does make sense, if only to distinguish her style in the minds of her readers. Cather's main character, Archbishop Latour, does not change so much as come into clearer focus. It is as if her story begins with a picture of Latour through a blurry wide-angle lens. He is only a name in the prologue; he is denied authority when he first arrives in Santa Fe; he is traveling in foreign territory. Yet, through a series of vignettes, Latour's personality becomes more vivid and realized, like the landscape around him. Rather than major personal trans-formations or dramatic circumstances, we find that Latour becomes more of what we already thought he was. Although a relatively solitary man, Latour is literarily never alone. Cather almost always sets her main character in relation to either another character or to the landscape. Comparisons of the scenery to that of other locales are made, but like the personality of the Latour himself, the landscape seems to develop its essence, as well. In a scene towards the end of the book when Latour is on one of his many journeys back to Santa Fe, we see a good example of this juxtaposition, "[t]he plain was there, under one's feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud" (DCA 231-2). Cather points the fulfillment of her tale in her title. In the last section, titled just as the book itself, the Archbishop is "active in some other part of the great picture of his life" (Death Comes for the Archbishop 288). During his last days he was "done with calendared time," these words reflecting the arbitrary way in which memories are recalled, and the manner in which the book's minimal plot progresses.

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