Claude Wheeler’s sensitivity and intelligence are obvious, though he himself never recognizes them. His mother and Mahailey, the family housekeeper, love him deeply and know that he is unhappy, yet Claude defers to what he believes are his mother’s wishes when he does not insist on full matriculation at the state university. Similarly, he says nothing when forced to leave college to manage the family farm.
He finds his greatest happiness when he is with intelligent and worldly people: Ernest Havel, a German immigrant who is Claude’s own age; Mrs. Erlich, a cultured widow with five bright sons; Gladys Farmer, a childhood sweetheart and a high school teacher with a gift for music; Victor Morse, a devil-may-care R.A.F. pilot; David Gerhardt, a violinist turned soldier; and Madame Joubert, a farm woman who provides Claude’s first billet in France. All of them offer interludes of happiness in Claude’s restless life. Even so, Cather is careful not to make Claude’s death an indictment of war or even to see it as a tragedy for her protagonist. Claude considers his experience noble, and he dies with convictions he believes worth fighting for.
Evangeline Wheeler has a simple yet profound religious faith and contentment which contrast with her son’s unhappiness. While she has no doubt that she is where her Lord wants her to be, Claude sees her as a woman whose spirit is stifled both by her religion and by her isolated life on the farm. She...
(The entire section is 570 words.)