The Sculptor's Funeral

by Willa Cather

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How does realism influence "The Sculptor's Funeral" by Willa Cather?

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"The Sculptor's Funeral" by Willa Cather is influenced by realism in the descriptions of the characters and the setting. People seem grotesque and misshapen, either lanky and tall or burly and swollen. The scene is gray, filled with ugly sights and sounds. Ideas on life, death, youth, nature, mothers, and home are not idealized. There is only a brief recognition of the possibility of beauty in the world in Harvey Merrick's character.

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One way in which "The Sculptor's Funeral" is influenced by realism is in Cather's depiction of characters' speech. For example, the man in the Grand Army suit at the train station speaks in a "squeaky falsetto" with some kind of an accent, saying, "I reckon she's a-goin' to be pretty late agin to-night, Jim." Portraying an accent like this in such a realistic way helps to show how the story is influenced by realism. As the man continues speaking, he does so "with an ingratiating concession in his shrill voice"—rather an unflattering description, even more so than the first one.

The description of the "lanky boys of all ages" that appear when the train arrives is similarly indicative of a work of realism. Youth is not romanticized or idealized here; instead, they move as "slimily as eels" and "uncoiled themselves" as a "momentary animation kindled their dull eyes." The train's horn is a "cold, vibrant scream" rather than a friendly hoot, and when it stops, the train "pant[s] heavily" like some hulking animal. The world seems like a bleak place made of ugly sounds and sights, a realist rather than a Romantic view of things. Jim Laird is "disheveled" and "burly," and others move "awkwardly." The house is "naked" and "weather-beaten," fronted by an "icy swamp" and "rickety foot-bridge"—more ugliness and no idealized nature here. Likewise, the sculptor's mother is no weeping Madonna but, rather, "red and swollen" with no sign of gentleness and "teeth that could tear."

The remaining members of the family also seem like caricatures with their own grotesque features: they reek of tobacco or have large, knobby knuckles. Even Merrick's body is not marked by "that beautiful and chaste repose" that we hope to find on the faces of the dead; instead, he seems like he is hawkishly guarding some secret. Even the lawyer refers to the setting as a "dung-heap," and the narrator calls it a "raw, biting ugliness." Though Merrick himself is depicted rather Romantically as a kind of artistic genius, the descriptions of the people and setting best demonstrate the story's influence by realism.

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