Friday, January 24, 2020

Willa Cathers Death Comes to the Archbishop: A Narrative :: Willa Cathers Death Comes to the Archbishop

Willa Cather's Death Comes to the Archbishop: A Narrative Though many reviewers of Willa Cather's, Death Comes to the Archbishop, had difficulty classifying the book, Cather herself preferred to call it a narrative rather than a novel. I tend to agree with Cather. One definition from Webster's New World College Dictionary defines "narrative" as "a story", which is then defined as, "the telling of a happening or connected series of happenings, whether true or fictitious". A novel on the other hand is defined as having, "a more or less complex plot or pattern of events." Where most books tend to follow certain guidelines as to plot, Cather chooses to take a different route. Trying to create a tale that involves clever plot twists, bizarre characters, a telling climax, and a fitting denouement, would detract from the simple story she is telling. It is the story of two French priests who have been sent to the American Southwest to rejuvenate the Catholic churches in that diocese, during the late 1800's. The southwest, during this time period, was harsh and unhurried, and its indigenous people lived simple, remarkable lives. In keeping with the atmosphere of her story, the book is written almost as though her two main characters are keeping journals. The stories of Bishop Latour and Father Vaillant, who have adopted this rugged lifestyle, are told in little vignettes separated by chapters. Each vignette narrates a meaningful incident in their lives. I find it interesting that each chapter, or vignette, can stand on its own as an independent short story, yet it is woven together to create a tapestry of the Father's lives, with the people they meet and places they go tying it all together. Cather put it best when, in the book, she says, "Observing them thus in repose, in the act of reflection, Father Latour was thinking how each of these men not only had a story, but seemed to have become his story" (182). This type of "narrative" writing gives believability to the people, and a sense of realism to the story.

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