The image of nature and the contrast between country and city in Willa Cather’s “Neighbour Rosicky”
In the short story “Neighbour Rosicky” the author Willa Cather tells the tale of the old czech farmer Anton Rosicky and his family. Cather describes Rosicky’s present life as well as his past which is presented in several flash back scenes and in form of a narrative told by old Rosicky himself.
One of the central motives in the story is the image of nature. It is embedded in descriptions of the Nebraska country, which Cather depicts very enthusiastically. However, the picture of nature and country is presented in various ways with the help of different techniques. One of the goals of this paper is to examine Cather’s use of stylistic devices and that of her images and metaphors. Cather also strives to give the reader a very certain picture of the country itself and of country life. Again Willa Cather tries to employ different ways of presenting this picture.
The picture nature and country, throughout the entire short story, is set against the contrasting image of the city and it’s inhabitants and is ultimately the dominating contrast of the story since it best describes Cather’s own thoughts on the topic, as well as conveying her message to the reader.
The first indication of an image of nature is given very early in the story in the description of Rosicky himself. He is described as having a “naturally high forehead” and his physical appearance is generally defined “through the use of earth tones” such as his brown creased face with a ruddy color or his long brown mustache. Dr. Ed Burleigh also notices that Rosicky’s children have “natural good manners.”
This introduction of the imagery of nature as quoted above is very subtle. The main character Rosicky, who combines the attributes of nature within himself or his family, is introduced in a very likable and sympathetic way from the very beginning of the story. Therefore the reader is unconsciously presented with a positive point of view of nature.
Also, the ability of nature to improve human appearance is highlighted when Mary Rosicky puts one of her dark flowers into Ed Burleigh’s buttonhole.
“There, that looks better. You look too solemn for a young man, Ed.”
Again Cather subtly presents the positive character of nature by stating that Dr. Burleigh loses some of his solemnity through the gift of a flower from Mary Rosicky.
Anton’s wife is, much like her husband, portrayed as a naturally caring, rustic character, who in contrast to Rosicky has lived her entire life in the country (“He was city-bred, and she was country-bred” ). Mary’s love for nature and country is therefore one that has lasted her entire life and has obviously led to an absolute satisfaction and fulfillment, which was completed by her marrying Anton.
For Rosicky however, nature plays an important role. It is, after all, the reason for his decision to leave the comfortable city life he had been leading in New York. His love for nature makes him begin anew and build up an uncertain existence for himself and his family in the American west. Rosicky’s striving for nature is closely attached to his love for nature. When living in New York, the young Rosicky would often drink too much to “get a temporary illusion of freedom and wide horizons." In this quotation the connection of freedom and nature is displayed very clearly. Both boundlessness, and the great outside are conveyed by the image of “wide horizons.” The importance of freedom, which to Rosicky is always ultimately connected to land and therefore to nature, is best displayed in his thoughts about future of his son Rudolph who is thinking about leaving the country to find a better job in the city.
“To be a landless man was to be a wage-earner, a slave all your life; to have nothing, to be nothing.”
The troubles Rosicky had to encounter to finally realize his dream of freedom by acquiring land of his own explains the passion put forth in this statement. Therefore, Rosicky naturally has a very strong emotional connection to nature which is based on his own life experience. He has had the opportunity of comparing city life to life in the country. The contrast of these two shaping experiences can be traced as a common thread throughout the entire story.
The image of the city is presented to the reader through the thoughts and the narration of old Rosicky. Looking back he partially paints a gloomy picture of the cities he has experienced, especially London. Despite this the reader never gets the impression that Rosicky harbors any bitterness towards his past life in the city. However, it is clear that this specific experience has deeply influenced Anton Rosicky, especially in terms of his hopes and expectations concerning his children.
The first description of the city occurs as Rosicky lets his mind wander into his past while sewing clothes for his family. Cather uses a descriptive language that paints a stony cold, bleak and “unnatural” picture of cities, specifically in this paragraph of New York. Buildings are depicted as “blank”, the focus is put on “stone and asphalt with nothing going on” and a sense of inanimation is conveyed by the description of buildings “without the stream of life pouring through them.” Cather also emphasizes the emptiness that Rosicky felt while living in New York. The word “empty” is used four times in one short descriptive paragraph alone which deals with Anton’s former hometown. The “empty windows” intensify the impersonal and anonymous image of the city that Cather has drawn through Rosicky’s memory. The “empty jail” can also be understood as a symbol for Rosicky’s solitude and his lack of freedom.
 Cather, Willa “Neighbour Rosicky” in: “The Penguin Book of American Short Stories”,
New York, 1969 (p.232-264), p. 232 (to be quoted as “N.R.” in the remaining paper)
 Meyering, Sheryl L. “A reader’s guide to the short stories of Willa Cather”, New York, 1994,
p. 153 (to be quoted as “Meyering...” in the remaining paper)
 cf. N.R. p.232
 N.R. p.235
 N.R. p.237
 i.e. “With Mary, to feed creatures was the natural expression of affection – her chickens, her calves, her big hungry boys.” (N.R. p.235)
 N.R. p.241
 N.R. p.244
 N.R. p.249
 N.R. p.245
 N.R. p.245
 N.R. p.245
 N.R. p.425
 N.R. p.245
 N.R. p.245