First published in Woman’s Home Companion (April/May 1930) and included as one of three stories in Obscure Destinies (1932), “Neighbour Rosicky” dramatizes an old Bohemian farmer’s final days. The story is a character study of Anton Rosicky but also a portrait of a happy, productive family; a philosophical reflection on the place of death in the cycle of life; and a subtle social commentary on the American drive for success at the expense of a full life in the present. The story has affinities with both American realism and romanticism. Willa Cather uses flashbacks to contrast Rosicky’s past life as a tailor in London and New York with his life as husband and father on a Nebraska farm. His naturally generous spirit and capacity for hard work have matured under the duress of farming life; city life had provided excitement and cultural stimulation but left him restless and unfulfilled.
The story echoes others in the Cather canon that contrast rural and urban life. Knowing his heart is in poor condition, Rosicky spends his final winter clarifying for his children the legacy he has left them: not just the farm property but also the spiritual strength to build a satisfying life on it. He delivers his last gifts through grim stories of city life, the respect he displays for his family, and acts of kindness to his new daughter-in-law, who has trouble adjusting to farm life. His death is not a tragedy but the peaceful end to a long life in which he created—not by force of will but by acceptance and perseverance—personal fulfillment and family happiness. The story is considered one of Cather’s best, notable for its realistic dialogue and description and its successful balance of character development with social analysis. The story also contains one of her few portraits of a mutually sustaining marriage.
Arnold, Marilyn. Willa Cather’s Short Fiction. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984.
Cather, Willa. Uncle Valentine and Other Stories: Willa Cather’s Uncollected Short Fiction, 1915–1929. Edited by Bernice Slote. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
Rosowski, Susan J. The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather’s Romanticism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.
Categories: American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Short Story
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