Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, but moved to Nebraska where the population was diverse. She attended school and also was educated at home. She planned on becoming a doctor early in life. She accompanied a local doctor on his house calls and assisted in many of the examinations. By the time she entered college this was her future. The University of Nebraska accepted her but she had to pay her tuition through writing criticism for the Nebraska State Journal. This is when her career took a change. After college Willa Cather moved to Pennsylvania where she started to write for a magazine. She also taught Latin and English in a high school. She moved again to New York where she wrote for McClure’s magazine. While researching an article in Boston, another author, Sarah Orne Jewett, saw the talent that Cather possessed. Cather was advised, “find [her] own centre of life, and write from that to the world” (Jewett).
Her childhood is where she found this. She visited her brother in Arizona and on her way home she stayed in her hometown in Nebraska to refresh her memories. Cather then went back to Greenwich Village to live where she wrote almost all of her novels. She died in 1947 after writing ten novels, short stories, and a book of essays. Willa Cather contributed much to the world of literature. “Willa Cather wrote a graceful, measured prose that gives immense dignity to her fiction” (Ludwig 16). She reached the climax of her writing career with the novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop. The novel was written in 1927. It shows the importance of the Roman Catholic Church in her life. The characters, Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, are French clerics. They want to spread the Word of God to the Native Americans living in the Southwest, mainly in the state of New Mexico. They face many difficulties on their missionary journey. The Spanish living in the region are corrupt and unfair. The land is also difficult for them because it is harsh and not arable. It is also difficult for them to preach their message because the Indians are of another religion. They do become successful though in achieving their goal of conversion. With detailed recreation of the hard ships of the early church in the New World, Willa Cather also displays her characters as being smart and intellectual. Bishop Latour is the main character. He transforms many of the Native Americans into different people.
They become more productive as well as becoming Catholics. Bishop Latour also builds a cathedral, which symbolizes his triumph. He was a determined leader that helped the Catholic Church and also the Native Americans. Many people claim that Death Comes for the Archbishop is one of Willa Cather’s greatest novels. She wrote it based on many trips to the Southwest. It also influenced her to write other books similar to this one. It may not have been her Pulitzer Prize winning book, but may be her best novel. Willa Cather grew up in the Great Plains. Here she was subjected to many different ethnic groups. They influenced her own culture in many ways. These cultures were mostly Scandinavian, Danish, Bohemian, and German. These ethnic groups were immigrants starting a new life in America. They had left their home countries for economic as well as social reasons and came to America in hope of a better and more rewarding life. Their heroism and courage is displayed through some of her books such as, O Pioneer! and My Antonia. A few of Willa Cather’s novels are written after World War I. During this period many people were confused at the political disorder. Life was changing rapidly. This made it hard for many people to keep up with a normal contemporary life. Her novels did not have a hopeful and promising mood, as before.
They now had the opposite. One of her most famous novels, A Lost Lady, portrays the social decline in the world. In many reevaluations of her novels, including A Lost Lady, critics believe that Willa Cather displays socialism, the system where the community holds political power. “Once [Cather] had created symbols of triumph…, but now she concerned herself with symbols of defeat” (Hicks), is a statement that shows how her world changed and that it effected her greatly. Willa Cather’s novels contributed to the world. Her early novels give strong examples to those wanting to start a new life in a new place. They give hope and encouragement to those fearing change. Her later novels contributed to the world in that they helped those also confused with the political status of the world. They are still used today to show people how World War I affected the world. She was an early modernist writer which earns her a lot of recognition, along with her original style and theme. Willa Cather is a heroic person who dedicated herself to writing. She took risks in what she did. These risks have helped the world of literature up until today. She is truly an important person to our society and culture.
Resource Center. “Willa Sibert Cather.” www.galenet.com. Online. America Online. 22 Oct. 1999. Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop. New York: Modern Library, 1927. “Cather, Willa.” Encyclopedia Americana. Vol. 6. Richard M. Ludwig. Connecticut: Grolier Incorporated, 1998. 16.
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