How does Steavens feel about Merrick?  What do you suppose was the impact of visiting Sand City on Steavens’ feelings about Merrick?  How would you contextualize the relationship between...

How does Steavens feel about Merrick?  What do you suppose was the impact of visiting Sand City on Steavens’ feelings about Merrick?  How would you contextualize the relationship between Steavens and Merrick?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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  • As in many of Willa Cather's stories, the relationship between the artist and society falls under examination. The artistic Harvey Merrick left his small community in rural Kansas where he was derogated and traveled to Europe to be exposed to great art; he then lived in the East where he taught others, such as his protege, Henry Steavens, who greatly admires the master.
  • After Merrick's untimely death, Steavens accompanies Merrick's casket back to Sand City and is appalled at the backwardness and pettiness of those who knew Merrick. For one thing, no one recognizes the leaf on the casket as a symbol for a sculptor. When the casket reaches the Merrick home, Steavens is even more taken aback by the mother's rushing outside and draping herself over the coffin in an "orgy of grief." He has a "sickening conviction that there had been some mistake" as he listens and as he glances around at the distasteful room, feeling repulsion for the mourners who come and wait until the Merricks are in bed, then gossip about them.
    After this experience, Steavens "...comprehended well enough now the gentle bitterness of the smile that he had seen so often on his master's lips!"
  • After his visit to Sand City, Henry Steavens better understands his mentor; he knows why the man left his town, why he distrusted men and distrusted women even more. After he listens to the townspeople and observes the Merricks, Steavens comes to some conclusions about Merrick.  
    "He was wonderful," said Steavens slowly, "wonderful; but until to-night I have never known how wonderful."
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