What is the meaning behind the theme of Family Values in the short story by Willa Cather, "Neighbor Rosicky"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. Burleigh is the first one in "Neighbour Rosicky" to bring up the idea of Rosicky's family values, although of the eleven times "family" is mentioned, it is never tied to "values," which is a word that doesn't appear in Cather's story at all. Therefore, the meaning of the theme of family values must be inferred from the things that other characters say about the Rosicky family and from the way Rosicky treats his family.

A good example of the way Rosicky treats his family is seen in his act of generosity in providing the family car as a surprise for Rudolf and his bride who needs some "jollying." The other boys, who are still living at home, use the car Saturday nights to go into town to go the "picture show" (i.e., movies, cinema):

On Saturday night the boys always piled into the Ford, ... and went to town to the moving-picture show."

One Saturday, Rosicky tells them, "I hope you boys ain't disappointed," but he wants the car that night to "let [Rudolf] an' Polly go in to de show. ... I'm afraid she's gettin' lonely some, ...." This, coupled with the way he later sends Polly off to get dressed for town while he takes care of cleaning the kitchen himself, shows that Rosicky treats his family with courtesy, respect, and kindness, even when he has to disappoint some of them to help others of them. The family value here is a complex one: Family members deserve to receive and to give the best of their kindness and love to one another because the happiness of each is of great importance.

The earliest and best example of what other characters say about the Rosicky family is provided by Dr. Burleigh during Rosicky's character introducing appointment with him, an appointment that sets up the conflict of the story: his heart. Dr. Burleigh says to Rosicky that he is one of the few men he knows who has a family that makes him happy and fosters peace at home and treats him with respect; he says that they have "happy dispositions, never quarrel among themselves, and they treat you right."

This tells the reader that the family values the other characters sees reflected in the Rosicky family are the same ones that Rosicky lives by and conducts his family in accord with. The meaning of this theme can therefore be said to be that true family values reside in valuing members in the highest degree and holding each one's happiness of the greatest concern and that true family values look the same in the private of your own home as they look to people seeing the family values from an external observer’s perspective.

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Neighbor Rosicky

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