Why are there the repeated references to Rosicky’s eyes and hands in the story "Neighbour Rosicky"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A warmhearted and sensitive man, Anton Rosicky possesses triangular-shaped eyes--critic Edward J. Placentino contends this shape is meant to suggest the image of a plow--that look deeply into life and warm, muscular hands that touch more than mere flesh. Author Willa Cather depicts these bright eyes as seeing beyond the objects Rosincky regards and his hands as communicating deep feeling beyond the normal. This depiction is why there are repeated references to Rosicky's eyes and hands. And certainly, these traits of Rosicky's develop his character and the theme of her short story.

Rosicky is both an observer and an active participant in life. He is proud of his land and very fond of his place. On his way home from town where the doctor has informed him that his heart is weakened, and he ponders his death, he stops at the graveyard near the edge of his property. There Rosicky reflects that this graveyard is much better than those in a city, where people are lost forever. In this graveyard a man can forever be near his fields and 

...the complete arch of the sky over him, hear the wagons go by....And it was so near home.

Once home, as he talks with his beloved wife Mary, "Rosicky's eyes twinkled," displaying his affection for her and his love for his farm on which his four boy work, boys for whom he hopes that the cruelty of human beings will never touch.

Nowhere in Cather's narrative are the role of Rosinsky's perceptive eyes and communicative hands better described than in the passage in which the old Czech farmer goes to the house of his son and his American wife in order to offer them the use of his car so that they can go into town and watch a movie together. For, Rosinsky has noticed that Rudolph's wife Polly seems discontented with farm life and, perhaps, misses the socialization of town and her job that she had in town.

When he first arrives, Polly addresses him formally as Mr. Rosicky. Undaunted by this formality, he tells he of his plan for Rudolph and her to go to the movies. Further, when Polly argues that she has chores such as dish washing to do, Rosinsky dons an apron and tells her he will do these tasks because he has done them many times for his wife when the boys were babies. Persuaded by his genuine warmth and perceptive eyes:

That kind, reassuring grip on her elbows, the old man's funny bright eyes, made Polly want to drop her head on his shoulder for a second--

Polly agrees to get dressed. Before leaving the kitchen, Polly faces her father-in-law and asks him if he did not feel lonesome after having lived in big cities:

As she turned round to him, her hand fell naturally into his, and he stood holding it and smiling into her face with his peculiar, knowing, indulgent smile without a shadow of reproach in it. "Dern big cities is all right fur de rich, but dey is terrible hard fur de poor."

Then, Rudolph enters and his father tells him that they are going to the movies. He hands him a silver dollar and tells his son to buy his wife popcorn at the movies and ice cream afterwards as though he were still courting her. "She's awful good friends wid me," he informs Rudolph.

And, they have, indeed, become close. When Rosicky has his first heart attack, it is Polly who leads him into the house and tends to him, holding that brown, muscular hand. When Rosicky comes around, he looks at Polly intently: "his eyes seemed to caress her face, to regard it with pleasure." Then, he presses his hand into hers, and Polly notices that it has again become warm. "The twinkle in his yellow brown eyes seemed to come nearer."

Polly feels that her father-in-law possesses a special gift for loving people and with such eyes that reveal his love and his warm hands that press love into one's own hands.

She had never seen another in the least like it. She wondered if it weren't a king of gypsy hand, it was so alive and quick and light in its communications--very strange in a farmer [whose hands are usually so stiff and calloused].

Truly, Rosicky's eyes and hands acts as his tools of communicating his warmth and love for those dear to him. His "funny bright eyes" are beacons of love, earthy and warm in color; his warm, brown, muscular hands reassure his beloved of his fondness and strength to endure. This, then, is why Cather makes repeated references to his eyes and hands: She uses repeated references to make the point that Rosicky is an unusual man and an unusually loving man who can be an example of giving, loving and caring.

Read the study guide:
Neighbor Rosicky

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