Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 183

“Neighbor Rosicky” has a minimum of plot and a maximum of characterization. The story resembles the novel demeuble, or unfurnished, which Cather invented to strip the narrative of excessive characters and incidents in order to concentrate on a central character. Reduced to the bare facts, the narrative in the present consists only of Rosicky’s medical diagnosis, his developing friendship with Polly, and his death. Cather provides a richer texture, however, by having Dr. Burleigh reflect several times on Rosicky’s character, his family, and the values they represent, as well as by having Rosicky reflect on his own past and at one time tell a long story about his youth. Thus the reader sees the contrast between his difficult beginnings and the tranquil life he has accomplished as well as a conflict between the first generation of immigrants and their children, whose lives are easier and expectations, higher.

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As in all of Cather’s writing, the style is clear, spare, and uncluttered, an art that conceals its artistry. The writing has some of the austerity of the pioneer life that Cather admired.

Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 513

The Farming Crisis
Although it was not collected in Obscure Destinies until 1932, Cather wrote ‘‘Neighbour Rosicky’’ in 1928, just one year before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 plunged the country into the Great Depression, an economic crisis that affected millions of Americans. Before 1929, during the administration of Calvin Coolidge in particular, the country’s economy was vigorous and prosperous. One important exception to this prosperity, however, was the American farmer. After World War I, European markets were restricted by new tariffs, and American farmers could not sell the food they were producing. As a result, many farmers experienced an economic crisis long before the Stock Market Crash. The price of wheat, for instance, fell from $2.94 a bushel in 1920 to 30 cents a bushel in 1932. While Cather does not explicitly allude to the farming crisis in the Midwest during the 1920s, she is careful to point out that although Rosicky planted wheat, he also grew corn and alfalfa. In fact, he is quite concerned over his alfalfa fields at the end of the story and considers this crop, not his wheat fields, to be an essential one.

For Cather, the 1920s represented a time of crass materialism and declining values. In 1924 President Coolidge declared that ‘‘the chief business of the American people is business,’’ a philosophy which dominated the country’s political and social agendas. The tensions between labor and industry were severe. Rosicky, Cather tells the reader, ‘‘was distrustful of the organized industries that see one out of the world in the big cities.’’ Many authors during this period responded to the 1920s with disillusionment. F. Scott Fitzgerald considered the consequences of American affluence in his novel The Great Gatsby; Sinclair Lewis criticized social conformity and small-town hypocrisy in novels like Babbitt and Dodsworth. While critics have debated whether or not Cather adequately examined the roots of American materialism, she clearly values Rosicky’s rejection of the heartless pursuit of money. After 1929, the country became more wary of identifying its interests with the interests of big business. Throughout the 1930s, economic reform programs were established to help working people and farmers who were suffering under the Depression.

Recent critical attention to Cather has pointed to the ways in which her work brings into focus the multicultural heritage at the heart of the American Midwest. Like her novels, ‘‘Neigbour Rosicky’’ celebrates the spirit,...

(The entire section contains 2462 words.)

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