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Research on Willa Cather’s Culture Identity

Author: MaYuHua
Tutor: YuBin
School: Nanjing University
Course: Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords: Willa Cather Cultural identity American modern culture European traditional culture Indian culture Immigrants
Type: Master's thesis
Year: 2011
Downloads: 108
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Willa Cather (1873-1947) is a contemporary American writer with distinctive characteristics, who grew up during the period in which the States’capitalism was developing rapidly and the social perception was abruptly changing. Both of her life experiences and her writing could strongly represent the time. In her childhood, Cather moved with her parents from southern Virginia to the Great Plains of Nebraska, joining the trend of Western Exploitation. After graduating from college, Cather join the tide of moving back, worked in Pittsburgh, New York and other well developed industrial cities of the central and eastern parts of America, gradually becoming a successful magazine editor. The dramatic changes in the outside world together with Cather’s personal rich experiences enabled her to contact with different cultures and perceive the confrontation among them, while Cather’s own cultural identity had also been affected and correspondently changed. In her works, Cather clearly expressed her different attitudes toward those cultures, which conveyed her own cultural identity.Looking at Cather’s writing, the collision between different cultures is a major theme throughout her work. The study of Cather’s cultural identity is still relatively lacking. This thesis attempts to follow Cather’s writing history, as well as the primary works of different periods, to explore the recognition of Cather’s cultural identity. This thesis includes introduction, main body and conclusion. The introduction discusses Cather’s research situation at home and abroad, points out the blank in cultural research of her work and introduces the theory of cultural identity.The main body is divided into four chapters. The first chapter describes Cather’s early life experiences, which exerted significant impact on her late period creation:migrating to Nebraska put Cather in various European cultural environments. Based on the education of classical culture, Cather was identified with European traditional culture, formed a value of caring for spirit but despising substances, and admiring art. Years of urban life provide her with a deep understanding of American modern culture which representative by materialism and utilitarianism. She also had disgusted feeling of the mechanization and the loss of personality of modern life, which expedited her traditional cultural identity.The second chapter analyzes the prairie trilogy O, Pioneers!, Song of the Lark and My Antonia. In the western frontier life as the background, Willa Cather described the invasion of the modern culture to the West and the cultural shocking with the traditional culture which inherited by European immigrants. In the collision, the modern culture obtained strong position, while the traditional culture gradually lost the soil for living. Faced by the invasion of modern culture to the traditional culture, Cather showed strong rejection and disgust, and by shaping a new type of pioneers, Cather constructed a more positive cultural identity which could better be adapted to the Modern life.The third chapter focuses on two novels:One of Ours, The Professor’s House, in which Cather created a young romantic farmer Claude who escaped the stifling village in France to find the value of life with the help of the first world war, and survived only in fantasy and a traditional intellectual Professor Peter, who revolted modernity culture fiercely, but can only huddle up in the shabby attic and live by old memories. They are unable to tolerate vulgarity and suppression of modern life, however, could not either find a real way out or were lost. With the destroy of Europe which viewed as the Holy Land for Cather in the first world war, the traditional culture lost survival soil in modern culture’s erosion. Cather’s balance of identity was broken and had a crisis on cultural identity. The novels conveyed such crisis that generated by Cather’s disappointment to the reality and perplexity caused by the loss of the way out.The fourth chapter will look into three novels The Song of the Lark, The Professor’s House and Death comes for the Archbishop and reveals the forming of Cather’s Indian cultural identity. Due to the identity crisis raised by the disappointment of the reality and bewilderment of the future, Cather began to look into the past and history more frequently, hoping to explore the underlying causes of human changes in history and find solutions to ego identity crisis. In this process, traditional American Indian culture’s pursuit of the quality of life, their love of art and the idea of reaching the harmony with nature by self-blanking were all appreciated by Cather. The steady history and the strong vitality of Indian culture saved Cather from the identity crisis.In the end, the conclusion analyses Cather’s nostalgic identity and summarizes Cather’s cultural identity.With the variation in the outside world, Cather adopted an open attitude toward different cultures. She developed the useful ones and discarded the useless things. She continuously reflect upon herself to explore and modify the construction of cultural identity. At the same time, in the exploring process, Cather had always insisted on the lofty pursuit of the spiritual world and art, and this kind of continuous exploration and persistence enriched Cather’s works with realistic and impressive charm. As critic Maxwell Geismar says:"She is a noblewoman in the wilderness, and she belongs to the traditional nobility in the equal social structure. She is a writer emphasizing agriculture in the industrial society, and a defender of the spirit of the United States in constantly materialistic civilization."As a writer located in a transition period of traditional and modern times, Willa Cather’s pursuing of cultural identity has extensive representativeness.

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