Connecting Cather's work to the southern literary tradition and the South of her youth
A diverse and experimental writer who lived most of her life in New York City, Willa Cather is best known for her depiction of pioneer life on the Nebraska plains. Despite Cather's association with Nebraska, however, the novelist's Virginia childhood and her southern family were deeply influential in shaping her literary imagination.
Joyce McDonald shows evidence, for example, of Cather's southern sensibility in the class consciousness and aesthetic values of her characters and in their sense of place and desire for historical continuity, a sensibility also evident in her narrative technique of weaving stories within stories and in her use of folklore. For McDonald, however, what most links Cather and her work to the South and to the southern literary tradition is her use of pastoral modes.
Beginning with an examination of Cather's Virginia childhood and the southern influences that continued to mold her during the Nebraska years, McDonald traces the effects of those influences in Cather's novels. The patterns that emerge reveal not only Cather's strong ideological connection to the pastoral but also the political position implicit in her choice of that particular mode. Further analysis of Cather's work reveals her preoccupation with hierarchical constructs and with the use and abuse of power and her interest in order, control, and possession. The Willa Cather who emerges from the pages of The Stuff of Our Forebears is not the Cather who claimed to eschew politics but a far more political novelist than has heretofore been perceived.