Neighbor Rosicky by Willa Cather

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Neighbor Rosicky” begins with Anton Rosicky’s having a medical checkup and learning from Dr. Burleigh that he has a bad heart. Sixty-five years old, Rosicky has worked hard all of his life, and the doctor urges him to take it easy, to cut back on farmwork and spend more time instead helping his wife around the house. Rosicky has five sons and one daughter, who can do the manual labor on their Nebraska farm. A contented man who enjoys his family, Rosicky is not a workaholic, and he follows the doctor’s advice.

As Rosicky leaves, Dr. Burleigh thinks about the man and his family, for whom he feels deep affection. Rosicky has the knack of always being interested in things, of embracing life, taking the hard times philosophically, and not getting depressed. Those in his family have natural good manners and offer generous hospitality. Though they are far less affluent than most neighboring farmers, they seem to enjoy themselves more and are free from the mania of acquisitiveness.

However, life has not been easy for Rosicky, and several times he thinks back to the hardships of his youth. A Czech by birth and upbringing, Rosicky emigrated at eighteen to London, where for two years he experienced the harshness of Victorian poverty while he worked in a tailor’s shop. With the help of some rich Bohemians, he sailed to New York when he was twenty and took up work as a tailor, enjoying his bachelor life and the cultural offerings of the city. For fifteen years, he was happy with this existence, but becoming increasingly restless and wanting to be the first of his family ever to own land, he went to Nebraska at thirty-five, married, and made a fresh start as a farmer, eventually owning his own farm, a place in which he takes pride, though the land is poor and produces less than that of his more prosperous neighbors.

Now Rosicky’s oldest son, Rudolph, is married to a town girl, and Rosicky worries that his daughter-in-law may be so bored with farm life and his son so frustrated by bad weather and poor harvests that they will give up farming and move to the city, where Rudolph can find salaried work as a mechanic. Rosicky considers cities harsh and cruel to the poor and fears that Rudolph will lose his independence. Polly, Rudolph’s wife, is a bit standoffish from her immigrant relatives but warms to Rosicky when he shows his affection and concern by arranging for her and her husband to borrow his car and go to town Saturday evenings, while he cleans up behind them.

The day before Christmas, Rosicky tells his family that they do not know what hard times are and relates to them the conditions of his youth. He is worried that the second generation may lack his patience and power of endurance, and he hopes that they can get through life without experiencing cruelty.

In the spring, Rosicky is at Rudolph’s farm, raking up thistles that his son has ignored but that he fears will ruin the alfalfa crop, when he has a heart attack. Polly helps him to bed, sits with him, and realizes the depth of his love for her. The attack passes, and Rosicky goes home, seemingly recovered, but the next morning after breakfast, a second attack kills him.

Part 1 Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ begins at the office of Dr. Ed Burleigh where Anton Rosicky learns that he has a bad heart. Readers also learn that Rosicky, a farmer on the Nebraska prairie, is a native of Bohemia, a region in what is today Slovakia. He is sixty-five and has a wife and six children as well as an ‘‘American’’ daughter-in-law. The doctor urges Rosicky to cease doing heavy farming chores.

After Rosicky leaves his office, Dr. Burleigh remembers how he breakfasted at the Rosicky farm the previous winter after delivering a baby for a rich neighbor. His warm welcome there causes Burleigh to reflect that good people such as the Rosickys never seem to get ahead; but he concludes that perhaps they enjoyed their life all the more.

Part 2 Summary

(Short Stories for Students)

As Rosicky leaves the doctor’s office, he starts home but pauses...

(The entire section is 1,558 words.)