Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 161: Willa Cather, Peter (#176)

Willa Cather, "Peter" (1892) from Willa Cather: Stories, Poems, & Other Writings:

Another example of Cather's frontier/aesthetic conflict stories: here Peter is an ex-violinist from the old country and his eldest son Antone runs a frontier household with cold efficiency. So, with Peter being unable to play violin, Antone demands that he do real work around the house and also that he sell the violin. Unable to deal with that, Peter destroys the violin and shoots himself--and his son goes off to sell the violin bow that Peter forgot to break.

(It's such a Cather-esque story--a man who can't make art on the frontier--that Cather revised it twice and included a version of it in her My Antonio.)

At three pages, it's a story told in much omniscient summary: we hear that Antone would never drink but that Peter is something of a lush; and that the people around consider Antone a hard worker and a hard person--and respect him for it. So while we might find our natural sympathies here with the old man and his romances, Cather plays with that by pointing out how Peter's stroke makes his aesthetic yearning impossible. Here, it's not the frontier alone that drives the conflict--it's simply that Peter is old and infirm, no longer a fit subject for romance. That gives the story itself a hard edge: taking a naturally sympathetic character and pointing out that, realistically speaking, he's simply run out of luck and time.

No comments:

Post a Comment