Willa Cather and Modern Cultures

By Melissa J. Homestead; Guy J. Reynolds | Go to book overview

2 Thea’s “Indian Play” in
The Song of the Lark

SARAH CLERE

Much critical attention has been paid to the role of southwestern Indian ruins in The Professor’s House; however, far less space has been devoted to the use Cather makes of indigenous culture in The Song of the Lark. In The Professor’s House, Tom Outland’s experiences with cliff-dweller culture include concrete historical and anthropological qualities that appear to be largely absent from Thea Kronborg’s encounters with Native ruins. Tom excavates and catalogs relics; Thea has transcendent moments of identification with long-dead Native women. On the surface, Thea’s response to Panther Canyon appears to be entirely emotional and almost intentionally ahistoric. Yet her sojourn in Panther Canyon is, in reality, heavily grounded in contemporary antimodern anxiety surrounding gender roles and the appropriation of American Indian culture. By allowing Thea to identify herself so closely with these non-white women, Cather is indulging in a variation of the practice Philip Deloria terms “playing Indian.” Thea’s identification with the long-dead Native women of Panther Canyon allows her to identify herself as an artist without completely abandoning the qualities of domesticity that Cather’s successful female characters invariably possess.

Both ethnographers and tourists found Native peoples of the

-21-

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