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Willa Cather’s Characterization Technique in Neighbor Rosicky

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” Neighbor Rosicky “, written in 1928 and collected in the volume Obscure Destinies in 1932, is generally considered one of Willa Cather’s most successful short stories. It is a character study of Anton Rosicky, a man who, facing the approach of death, reflects on the meaning and value of his life. In tracing Rosicky’s journey from Bohemia to Nebraska,Cather explores the intimate relationship between people and the paces they inhabit. The story also celebrates the small triumphs of life. ( Wilson 1) The protagonist, Neighbor Rosicky is presented from the point of view of an observer, an omniscient narrator, who enters the consciousness of several different characters and sees the world from their point of view . Rosicky’s person evokes sympathy of the reader and appreciation of human drama from Cather’s part. She has a very careful way of drawing the character and exploits all the usual methods of characteriztion technique, through which she creates “a hero that can be examined from all sides, as a rare object in the middle of the table” (Seargent 139).

Nevertheless, the essence of the character is given by the extremely deep psychology applied by Cather. As we can see while reading the story we are given a lot of information referring to the character of Rosicky: dialogs between characters, their actions, others’ descriptions provide a clear picture how should we imagine Cather’s hero. Dialogue is often used to display the interaction between the family members and friends. Through these we get the feeling of the endearing qualities of their family life. From the dialog between Anton and Dr. Burleigh, the family’s doctor and very good friend, we learn that he has problems with his health and that he must be a well-known and liked person in his community. We are led further when we enter his warm and very lively family. Their dialogs introduce us a strong, vivid, wise personality in Rosicky’s person, but altogether a caring, sympathetic, generous one. We also find out how beloved he is to his family when his wife goes to see the doctor so that she can get the real scoop on his condition.

Their life-style, their relation to one another suggests that they all aspire to a harmonic and peaceful life. Rosicky’s individual spiritual harmony and fulfillment reflects that he is conforted with his life’s personal victory: fulfilled his dream of having a beautiful family and to remain attached to his roots – having his own land and cultivating alfalfa provided the freedom to pursue a true happy life. Rosicky is not cared for only by his family. When telling the diagnosis about his heart, the doctor seems to be really worried about his old friend, even more concerned because he is aware that how hard can be for a man who was active all through his life that now he has to slow down and give in. I think Rosicky finds hard to handle this situation not only for dignity but because he doesn’t want to let his family to struggle without his help. ” I don’t like no old man hanging round the kitchen too much. An’ my wife, she’s a awful hard worker her own self. ” And again we get a clear picture about Rosicky’s family from himself as well and from Dr. Ed: “My Lord, Rosicky, you are one of the few men I know who has a family he can get some comfort out of; happy dispositions, never quarell among themselves, and they treat you right.

I want to see you live afeww years and enjoy them.” It is really moving how he talks about his oldest son and his daughter in law, an American girl, Polly. “yes, she’s a fine girl… Polly got lots of spunk, an’ she got some style, too. Da’s nice , for young folks to have some style. – Rosicky inclined his head galantly. His voice and his twinkly smile were an affectionate compliment to his daughte-in-law.” Significant is the gesture whit which” he placed the doctor’s fee delicately behind the desk- telephone, looking the other way, as if this were an absent-minded gesture.” Rosicky doesn’t like to be embarassed and to make others feel the same, especially when it comes to his friends. The reader learns much more about the character of the Rosickys from others’ opinion and Doctor Ed’s comment. The gossipers wondered why Rosicky didn’t modernize his farm. He was industrious, and so were his boys, but they were rather free and easy, weren’t pushers, and they didn’t always show good judgement.

They were comfortable, they were out of debt, but they didn’t get much ahead. Maybe, Doctor Burleigh reflected, people as generous and warm-hearted and affectionate as the Rosickys never got ahead much; maybe you could not enjoy your life and put it into the bank, too. In such a vivid family humour is never missing. It is most obvious when Dr. Ed is invited for a breakfast after helping at a childbirth on the neighbouring farm. All along the dinner the atmosphere bustles and they are all joking and high spirited. It seems to be a truly happy family, where friends are always wellcomed. ” He didn’t know any other farm-house where a man coul get such a warm welcome, and such good strong coffee with rich cream.” Rosicky himself is a friendly and joking person. He never forgets to make the “pretty girl with plucked eyebrows who always waited on him” in the merchandize shop to laugh on his regular shoppings. Humour seems to be part of his character, even when he knows that his health is failing and he should be worried about it.

Perhap, the fact that he has to be hepled in the things that he had done by homself before is hard to accept, but his spirit is still full of energy. “If Rosicky went to throw hay down from the loft, one of the boysran up the ladder and took the fork from him. He sometimes complained that though he was getting to be an old man, he wasn’t an old woman yet.” Another important device of Cather’s characterization technique is the authorial comment. A lot of information about Rosicky’s and, last but not least, about other characters’ outlook we get from these authorial comments. Already in the beginning of the short story we got a very detailed description of how Rosicky looked like. … his queer, triangular-shaped eyes. His eyes were large and lively, but the lids were caught up in the middle in a curious way, so that they formed a triangle. He had a ruddy colour in his smooth-shaven cheeks and his lips, under his long brown mustache. His hair was thin and ragged around his ears, but very litle grey. His forhead, naturally high and crossed by deep parallel lines, now ran all the way up to his pointed crown.

Rosicky’s face had the habit of looking interested – suggested a contented disposition and a reflective quality that was gay rather than grave. This gave him a certain detachment, the easy manner of an onlooker and observer. But if we examine this description more attentively, we can see that it is not only a mere physical scatch about a man, but rather hides deep interest of the author in Rosicky’s inner traits. She takes the advantage that a person’s face and features tell a lot about his personality. His eyes suggest an inquiring and open-minded person; his forehead and the deep lines that cross it shows that we have to deal with a wise, calm, thoughtful man; and also his features imply a person that had a hard life, which didn’t break him down, but on the contrary, he seems to posess spiritual harmony. There is also another passage in which the author describes his appearance, but this time she enters the mind of the farmer’s wife, Mary. It is hard to see anyone who has become like your own body to you.

Yes, hi hair had got thin, and his high forehead had deep lines running from left to right. But his neck, always clean-shaved except i the busiest seasons, was not loose or baggy. It was burned a dark reddish brown, and there were deep creases in it, but it looked firm and full of blood. His cheeks had a good colour. On either side of his mouth there was a half-moon down the length of his cheek, not wrinkles, but two lines that had come there from his habitual expression. He was shorter and broader when she married him; his back had grown broad and curved, a good deal like the shell on the turtle, and his arms and legs were short. It can be imagined that, however she descries her husband as a changed man under the hardships of life and it is true that time had its effects on his body, but he is not a broken, sickly old man. She carefully watches him and sees that he is yet her handsome and energetic man she married in her youth.Once entering the wife’s mind, Cather goes further and not only describes Rosicky through her eyes but approaches the two’s relationship. Enters Mary’s heart to find out what kind of relationship do they have.

And not only their relationship is touched upon, but they are contrasted as characters, too. Mary wanted to jump up, but she sat still. She admired the way he never under any circumstances raised his voice or spoke roughly… she often said she wanted her boys to have their pap’s nice ways. … He was her man, and the kind of man she liked. She was rough, and he was gentle – city-bred, as she always said. They had been shipmates on a rough voyage and had stood by each other in trying times. Life had gone well with them because, at the bottom, they had the same ideas about life. They agreed without discussion, as to what was most important and what was secondary. They didn’y often exchange opinions, even in Czech – it was if they had thought the same thought together. A good deal had to be sacrificed and thrown overboard in a hard life like theirs, and they never disagreed as to the things that could do. It has been a hard life and a soft life, too. … He was a city man, a gentle man, and though he married a rough farm girl, he had never touched her without gentleness. Although only Rosicky has got such detailed description from the author, we can have a glance on Polly, his precious daughter-in-law.

Nothing important is revealed in connection of her character from her appearance, but all the more is from her relationship with the farmer and his family. But now have a look at her. “Polly was in a short- sleeved gingham dress, clearing away the supper dishes. She was a trim, slim little thing, with blue eyes and shingle yellow hair, and her eyebrows were reduced to a mere brush-stroke, like Miss Pearl’s. Willa Cather creates characters who have a keen sense of history and wish to establish and understand familial and spiritual roots. She characterizes her protagonists through their relationship with each pther. These are the most telling things about a person ans she uses this natural truth as a very clever device. The author comments upon Mary’s relationship with her animals and draws a parallel between their treatment and that of humans’ around her. ” To feed creatures was the natural expression of affection – her chickens, the calves, her big hungry boys. It was a rare pleasure to feed a young man (Dr. Ed) whom she seldom saw and whom she was as proud as if he belonged to her.” Maybe it sounds primitive but it is very onest way of expressing her feelings.

The physical well- being of her beloved is very important to her and the first sign of it is if they are well-fed. As I mentioned in the beginning the Rosicky family was popular. So it’s not a surprise that they care of their neighbours. It clearly reflects from their concern of the pregnant wife on the near farm. “… I said it wasn’ right, Mary put it warmly. It was all right for me to do them things up to the last, for I was terrible strong, but that woman’s so weakly. And do you think she’ll be able to nurse it, Ed?” Another thing that I already underlined is the relationship between the family nad Dr. Ed. He was a very good friend of them, especially of Mary. She treated him like a family memeber and was intersted in his happiness. “she was glad – she threw back her head and spoke out as if she were announcing him to the whole prairie. … She had known him when he was a poor country boy, and was boastfully proud of his success… << You look too solemn for a ypung man, Ed. Why don’t you git married? I’m worried about you.>>”.

In such a nice family it is natural that a kind-hearted woman and a gentle man understand and respect each another. The most expressive in this sence is the attentive gesture of Rosicky that he never forgets to bring candy for his wife, as a sign of love and courtesy. Family is the most important in Rosicky’s life, this means for him fulfillment and spiritual peace. I think the way someone is connected to his beloved ones are the most significant virtues of a good man. Rosicky’s eldest son, Rudolph has married only a year ago with an American girl, Polly. Unlike her husband, Polly grew up in town and is not the child of immigrants. These differences make her feel somewhat awkward around Rudy’s family-she calls her father-in-law ”Mr. Rosicky” and is ”stiff and on her guard” with Mary, whose occasional gifts of bread or sweets she is not quite comfortable receiving. Rosicky makes many sacrifices to help Rudolph’s marriage stay together. He loans the family car and gives some money to Rudolph, even though he is very poor himself.

“Polly ain’t lookin’ so good. I don’t like to see nobody lookin’ sad. It comes hard fur a town girl to be a farmer’s wife. I don’t want no trouble to start in Rudolph’s family.” He even tries to take care of the young couple’s entertainment when sending them to the cinema and tries to make their life comfortable in spite of the hardships they have with the unprosperous land. The most striking in the story is the emotional depth and gentleness that characterizes Rosicky’s and Polly’s relation no matter how awkward does she feel around her man’s family. From the beginnig they feel a common sympathy for each other. Rosicky treats her like a fragile flower that needs special attention. “That kind reassuring grip on her elbows, the old man’s funny bright eyes, made Polly want to drop her hed on his shoulders for a second.” I think in spite of her doubts she began to feel Rosicky like a father to herself, maybe because she was the daughter of a widow, maybe because she just cannot resist the gentleness of this strange father-like old farmer.

As the end approaches more quickly for Rosicky, as progresses their relationship to a deepening one based on mutual confidence. It is interesting how much more significant can be the gestures between to person rather than the words. Its evidence is clear when Rosicky sacrifices himself and helps Rudolph get rid of the thistles that appeared on his farm. His heart attack is a serious warning for his health. The moment when he is so close to death brings the father and the daughter-in-law closer to each other. Than he closed his eyes and lay half-smiling. But Polly sat still, thinking hard. She had a sudden feeling that nobody in the world, not her mother, not Rudolph, or anyone, really loved her as much as old Rosicky did. … It was as if Rosicky had a special gift for loving people, something that was like an ear for music or an eye for colour. As her thoght’s thread goes on we realize what a rare capacity that old man had for love and what a wonderful way had he to express it. It was quiet, unobtrusive; it was merely there.

You saw it in his eyes – perhaps that was why they were merry. You felt it in his hands too. … she sat holding his warm, broad, flexible, brown hand. … She wondered if it wasn’t a kind of gipsy hand, it was so alive and quick and light in its communications … Rosicky’s hand was like quicksilver, flexible, muscular, about the colour of the pale cigar, with deep, deep creases across the palm. … it was a warm brown human hand, with some cleverness in it, a great deal of generosity…” This description is so enlightening to the audience what a real, earthly, honest and optimistic man Anton Rosicky is.At this crucial event Polly’s address as ‘Mr. Rosicky’ changes into ‘Father’. She experiences this like ”an awakening”. She feels that she had never learned so much about life than from Anton Rocicky. His message was ”direct and ununtranslateable”. There borns a cofidence of such a degree between the two that Rosicky realizes without any suggestion that she will become a mother. Equally explicit is the importance of Rosicky’s memories. As Hermione Lee expresses it, Cather evoked ”landscapes of the mind” by an imagination working through ” memory, distance, and loss”.

”The workings of memory are crucial to most of her great novels and stories, and the problem of journeying – literal or symbolic – is central.” Most of Rosicky’s memories from his youth appear when he is sewing in his ”Father’s corner” We learn that He was originally from a small family farm in Czechlovakia and that he had a very hard life in London. He worked as a tailor and and earned so little that sometimes he was even starving and havn’t have where to sleep. Because of his uneasy feelings about Rudolph’s ideas on going to the city and working there in afactory, he tells the story of his London life. He was sharing the same little dirty apartment with a poor family. It was Christmas eve and he had got nothing to eat. In the morning he found a rost goose and ate that. After this he felt terribly guilty because of not giving from it to the hungry family from whom this gift was gotten. So, he put away his dignity and pride and begged money enough for a wonderful Christmas dinner from some kind rich people and made it as a gift for the family. After that incident he was looked up by those rich people and with their help he went to New York to find better life.

His father’s drama makes Rudolph to left behind all his doubts about Rosicky’s values that he believs in and tries to teach with all his effort to his sons. And not even his son but Polly as well finally understands why does he stick so much to country life and land. Furthermore we can conclude his human values that he is driven by all through hi life. They were the only things in his experience he had found terrifying and horrible: the look in the eyes of a dishonest and crafty man, of a schemeing and rapacious women. … The worst things he had come upon in his journey through the world were human – depraved and poisonous speciemens of man. … There were mean people everywhere, to be sure, even in their own country tow here. But they weren’t tempred, hardened, sharpened, like the treacherous people in the cities who live by grinding or cheating or poisoning their fellow men. … What Rosickt really hoped for hi boys was that they could get through the world without ever knowing much about the cruelty of human beings.” In his thoughts he also compares the city with the farmlife.

He was ”distrustful of the organized industries that see one out ot he world in the big cities.” All through the story we can have a clear picture of his relation with nature, his land and the lifestyle that he leeds. His tales stand as interor journeys from a world full of hardship and cruelty to a harmonic, peaceful one. It shows that his individual need of harmony can be associated only with a modest country life. His ”need for a spiritually reflective and well-ordered universe’ is ther in his attitude towards the alfalfa fields and the graveyard. He believes that his land that is owned by him and his family provides the freedom to pursue a true happy family life. This is why he wants so much for his boys to lead the same kind of life after hi death, too. One passage, which is near the beginning of the story, brings home the fact that Rosicky is very close to land. In this passage he discribes the graveyard as a nice, home-like place. He imagines himself laid out there right at the edge of his own hayfield overseeing the work of his ground for years to come.

Second, the alfalfa fields were a link to his roots and this another thing that fulfills him, going back to his own roots. In a next passage he ”stopped by the windmill to look up at the frosty winter stars and draw a long breath before he went inside. That kitchen with the shining windows was dear to him: but the sleeping fields and bright stars and the noble darkness were dearer still.” Once born from nature (the soil of the ground) man feels a deep connection with it, so he knows that soon he has to return to it. The same feels Rosicky and his returning is not an end but a new beginning, Cather shows that another kind of American dream was fulfilled in Rosicky’s example. He became a spiritually wealthy person, his dream, that of having a beautiful family and a land of his own, had come true with hard work and honour. On the whole we can say that Cather’s portrait of an immigrant farmer whose honesty, integrity and emotional depth help him to achieve a meaningful and happy life for himself and for his family. His significant virtues are that of a truly good person’s and as such I consider this one of the most successful character studies. I also conclude that the splendidness Willa Cather’s characterization technique lies in her ellicit approach of depicting a character’s inner qualities in a very natural and lively way.

Works cited and consulted

Harris, Richard. ” Willa Cather, Ivan Turgenev, And The Novel Of Character”. http:// www.getfreeessays.com Murphy, John J. ” Cather’s New World Divine Comedy”. http:// www. getfreeessays. com Sage, Lorna. The Cambridge Guide To Women’s Writing In English. Cambridge University Press, 1999. Seargent, Elizabeth Shepley. Willa Cather: A Memoir. Lincoln: Nebraska University Press, 1963. Wilson, Kathleen, ed. Short Sories For Students. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997.

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