What techniques does Willa Cather use in descriptive passages to make it more vivid and interesting?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Willa Cather is at her best, her descriptions alternate between personal experience and description of objects. The description of her first prairie wagon ride in Chapter 1 of My Antonia illustrates this. She starts with her attempts to sleep. The next sentence describes the settled straw and adds the hard bed that it gave her. Again, she explains her actions of slipping out from under the buffalo hide and kneeling to see out past the wagon. After that she describes the landscape full of nothing but faint starlight.

Cather's logicality fails her now and then. For instance, the character says that she knew the land was "undulating" because of what she could hear: "because often our wheels ground against the brake." Even though the wagon itself "lurched" down and up the other side of the hollow, the character doesn't register any lurching herself. This illogicality is not offset by but is in addition to the positive ability Cather has for feeling and envisioning the presence of a human being in nature: "I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it."

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My Antonia

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