Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Moonstone. Fictional town set in the sand hills of Colorado, closely modeled on Red Cloud, Nebraska, where Willa Cather spent her late elementary school and high school years. Her parents lived in this town for the rest of their lives, providing her with numerous opportunities to revisit and refresh her memory about the people and places that appear continuously in her fiction.

Thea Kronborg, the central character in The Song of the Lark, starts her artistic journey in Moonstone as the daughter of a Scandinavian Methodist minister. She is somewhat inhibited by her family’s small-town religious values and the routine nineteenth century expectations of women. Although Cather herself was frustrated by similar small-town conventions, she recognized that key persons in Red Cloud had helped her in her education and her eventual success as a writer, and she created similar characters in Moonstone to provide Thea with recognition of her unusual personality and talents. These include Professor Wunsch, a wandering and dissolute musician who teaches Thea to play the piano; Dr. Archie, a lifelong friend and mentor, who provides wisdom, insight, and fatherly concern; and Ray Kennedy, a brakeman on the railroad, who bequeaths Thea enough money to allow her to go to Chicago to study music.

Even her father and mother recognize her talent and do not prevent her from doing formal study far away in a big city. Her participation in the church choir, in local talent shows, and in the somewhat questionable festivities of Moonstone’s Mexican town provide opportunities to display her musical talent and for town recognition as a promising musician. By age fifteen, she has quit high school to...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Giannone, Richard. “The Lyric Artist.” In Critical Essays on Willa Cather, edited by John J. Murphy. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. Guides the reader through The Song of the Lark with short, well-chosen quotations and unifying interpretation. The chapter is preceded by an interesting, anonymous New Republic review published in 1915.

Middleton, Jo Ann. Willa Cather’s Modernism: A Study of Style and Technique. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. Middleton’s discussion of Cather’s deceptively simple style uses The Song of the Lark repeatedly as an example. Careful indexing allows the reader to locate these references.

Rosowski, Susan J. The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather’s Romanticism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986. Gives a good sense of how The Song of the Lark fits into Cather’s canon. Rosowski devotes much of one chapter to the novel.

Schwind, Jean. “Fine and Folk Art in The Song of the Lark.” In Cather Studies. Vol. 1, edited by Susan J. Rosowski. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990. Investigates the artistic forces at work in the novel. Focuses on the meaning of the title and importance of the epilogue.

Thomas, Susie. Willa Cather. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1990. Devotes much of chapter 2 to her analysis of The Song of the Lark as the most overtly Wagnerian of all of Cather’s novels. This excellent reference volume is accessible.