Fox, Arnold B.||Murray, Don, 1917-
M.S. Ed. (Master of Education)
Department of English
Cather; Willa; 1873-1947
This examination of the critical response to Willa Gather was undertaken in an effort to discover how the critics evaluated her writing and why they varied so widely in their evaluations. The "critics" ranged from un-named reviewers in periodicals to well-known, established authorities in the field of literary criticism. Contemporary reviews as well as recent studios were included. Generally, Miss Gather’s critics have discovered weakness in the structure of her novels. She has often employed a rather loose narrative which does not appeal to those expecting a closely-knit plot. Her material is not unified by strong action or character portrayal. Instead of these more conventional methods, Miss Gather has used time, mood, and certain elements of music and poetry to bring unity to her work. Some critics have been pleased by her innovations in structure. Character portrayal has been more severely criticized, and there have been fewer to come to Miss Cather's defense. There is not the excuse that she is just unconventional. A few characters do live on the pages of her novels, but most are not well developed and remain lifeless, shallow, or stereotyped. One of the most puzzling aspects of Miss Cather’s novels is her secession from the current scene. In an age of novelists who were especially critical of American life, Kiss Cather retreated into the past. To some critics this ostrich-like attitude seems inexcusable. Others have come to believe that this withdrawal has given her work a more lasting quality than a concern for contemporary problems could have. Many critics have approved of Miss Gather's use of local color. This element in her novels has enriched them and made them memorable. She has seemed to be skillful in the utilization of local color both in her early novels of Nebraska and in her later novels of the Southwest. Those who disapprove do so on the basis that the use of local color is tantamount to "literary slumming." Miss Cather has been more consistently praised for her writing style than for anything else. Her self-imposed goal was simplicity, and her success in its achievement is glorious. Her use of symbols and her ability to create and sustain a mood or an atmosphere are distinctive. Even though they concede her style is artistic, some critics are not satisfied. For them strong conflict or drama is essential to a novel. Miss Gather does present struggle and conquest, but these are more spiritual than physical in her novels. She glorified the pioneer spirit wherever she found it, and her themes have universal appeal. The consensus of opinion is that Willa Cather is one of the best novelists that America has produced and that she ranks high even when compared to novelists of other countries. Her reputation rests on several novels of distinction, none of them perfect but all of them displaying the quality of good literature. In spite of her weaknesses, the adjective "classic" aptly describes Willa Cather, and her contribution to American literature is significant.
Dunker, Jeanne, "Critical evaluation of Willa Cather" (1964). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 2011.
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