Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

The Producing Male Body in Willa Cather's "Neighbour Rosicky"

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

The Producing Male Body in Willa Cather's "Neighbour Rosicky"

Article excerpt

"The thickened nail of his right thumb told the story of his past."--Willa Cather (1932), "Neighbour Rosicky"

Literary scholars have, in recent years, begun to look at bodies as sites of analysis; corporeality, which was at one point the domain of philosophers and cultural studies, rightly begins to inform literary studies as well. The literature of a country that has had such a complex relationship with its citizens' bodies, both generally and as those bodies relate to national identity, begs consideration that can further the understanding of American selfhood. Scholarship like Michael Fried's (1987) Realism, Writing, Disfiguration on Thomas Eakins and Stephen Crane has facilitated a greater understanding of how bodies can be material texts themselves in literature and, more importantly, in realism. (1) The work of Willa Cather, specifically her 1928 story "Neighbour Rosicky," provides much in the way of rich meaning through the way bodies are constructed and carefully depicted. I contend that this theme warrants careful consideration for the cultural and historical significance it shows with respect to how bodies--both male and aging--relate to the larger issue of working men in America; this is particularly important in the context of the nature of work in America at the beginning of the 20th century when agriculture was losing ground to industry. However, physical labor still was assigned a high value by working men for both its material and intangible advantages. Rosicky's body has worn down both from hard work and from living a fruitful life; in fact, it tells simultaneously the story of his past and his present. The fact that he "couldn't enjoy [his] life and put it into the bank, too" (Cather, 1932, p. 15) shows how Rosicky represents a uniquely American conflict between production from physical work for private or familial consumption and such production that is intended to primarily generate income. In this work, the two issues are intricately entangled, as Rosicky provides food for his family through the physical work of his farming but also spends the income from the sale of what is left over on nonnecessities. Having both the agency to earn money and the ready availability of goods for purchase is representative of the larger concurrent flourishing of America as an independent capitalist nation. Rosicky's work that both produces foodstuffs for his family and provides income for other goods and the body performing that work depict a new theme for working men in America after the turn of the century.

Scholarship on Cather's work is, of course, abundant; most tends to focus on the place of her work in the American canon and in relationship to "American" issues as well as gender issues. In one of the few essays on the often-overlooked "Neighbour Rosicky," Matthias Schubnell (1991) argues that "Cather's short story offers an important contribution to our current environmental debate and to a redefinition of the American Dream" (p. 42). Mary Paniccia Carden (1999) further offers a gendered analysis of Cather's bibliography, claiming that "Cather's frontier stories restage the romancing of the wilderness--that paradigmatic activity of the self-made man--by situating women in his place" (p. 279). There is simply too much research into Cather to provide a truly thorough review, although it is certainly important to note that "Neighbour Rosicky" has rarely been the focus of it. Published as the first story in the 1932 collection Obscure Destinies, this story was written at a time when Cather "was at a pivotal juncture in her life and art" due to the deaths of both parents, and according to Marilyn Arnold (1984), had as its lofty goal the use of "art to generate a comprehensive vision that can reconcile and make whole the vast number of disparate elements that constitute a human life" (pp. 133-134). The small amounts of research into this story tend to focus on these larger "American" elements, and in particular the conflicts between urban and rural lives; for example, Edward Piacentino (1979) argues that "throughout, Cather accents the old man's admiration of and fondness for the agrarian simplicity of the Nebraska prairie, particularly through Rosicky's outspoken aversion to the world of urbanized mechanization and convenience" (p. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.