Willa Cather

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What dominant impression does Cather create about Harvey Merrick's sister, mother, and father? What details support this impression?

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Cather is able to sketch these people with just a few paragraphs. The picture that emerges is of a mother who dominates through an excess of emotion, a daughter who is withdrawn and embittered, and a husband who has had all his vitality drawn out of him by his wife and living long years in west Kansas. Even though Merrick was their son, there is little real affection there for him.

Here is Cather’s description of the mother:

There was a kind of power about her face—a kind of brutal handsomeness, even; but it was scarred and furrowed by violence, and so colored and coarsened by fiercer passions that grief seemed never to have laid a gentle finger there. The long nose was distended and knobbed at the end, and there were deep lines on either side of it; her heavy, black brows almost met across her forehead, her teeth were large and square, and set far apart—teeth that could tear. She filled the room; the men were obliterated, seemed tossed about like twigs in an angry water[.]

The mother’s personality does dominate everyone around her, especially her husband, but for all her force of character she seems impotent in the face of the men who truly control the town, who have gathered to “watch over” the coffin but really spend their time venting petty jealousies about Merrick’s success as an artist. She does nothing to defend her son, or to show that she feels any real connection to him.

The daughter is even more of a cypher, someone whose will seems to be wholly bound up in that of her mother’s. Cather says of her:

The daughter—the tall, raw-boned woman in crêpe, with a mourning comb in her hair which curiously lengthened her long face—sat stiffly upon the sofa, her hands, conspicuous for their large knuckles, folded in her lap, her mouth...

(The entire section contains 641 words.)

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