The Song of the Lark Analysis
by Willa Cather

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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 become the main piano teacher in the small town but is frustrated by what appears to be a future clouded by frontier cultural limitations.


*Chicago. The largest city in the Midwest, where Thea pursues her musical education in the 1890’s, at the same time that Chicago itself is experiencing a renaissance in the arts. Thea’s Chicago piano teacher, Andor Harsanyi, soon recognizes that Thea’s real future is in singing and arranges for another mentor, Madison Bowers, to give her vocal lessons. Thea’s artist self is also awakened by hearing the Chicago Symphony perform and by visiting the Chicago Art Institute, where she sees the painting by French artist Jules Breton (1827-1906) of a young peasant girl’s awakening to the possibilities of life. The title of Breton’s painting, The Song of the Lark, provides the title of both the novel and its second section. In Chicago, Thea begins to have success as a singer and meets the wealthy Fred Ottenburg, who is drawn to Thea both as an artist and as a woman.

Panther Canyon

Panther Canyon. Arizona ranch of the Ottenburgs, a wealthy family of brewers, to which Fred Ottenburg sends Thea to recuperate when he realizes that overwork has put her on the verge of a breakdown. There, she is revitalized by a summer in the hot sun and dry air. Based on Walnut Canyon in north-central Arizona, Panther Canyon is the site of Native American cliff dwellings that become an important inspiration to Thea’s continued maturation as an artist. Among houses carved out of the cliffs, Thea realizes the true nature of art and renews her commitment to live the life of an artist. However, it is also here that she falls openly in love with the married Fred and starts an affair that complicates her artistic life.

*New York City

*New York City. Artistic center of American culture to which Dr. Archie comes and agrees to provide money for Thea to go abroad to Germany and study with the best teachers in order to become a successful operatic...

(The entire section is 931 words.)