The Writing Style of Willa Cather

March 30, 2008
By Cameron Radis, Palatine, IL

Willa Cather, a popular author of novels and short fiction had a unique yet consistent style of writing. I think that she had two themes that are most commonly used in her works. The first theme is that she wrote about her personal accounts as well as the experiences she had with others as a child in the small town of Nebraska. The second theme, in the pieces I have read, is that the characters all live in small towns and have to decide whether to spend their lives there, or move away.

A constant theme that you can find in most of her pieces is that she wrote about the lives of people she knew while growing up in Nebraska. Willa’s writing allowed for the reader’s mind to open up and to transport themselves to a little town in Nebraska back in the early 1900’s. The setting of a little town can be seen in the pieces, “The Sculptor’s Funeral”, “A Wagner Matinee”, “The Sentimentality of William Tavener”, and My Antonia. For example, In My Antonia, the Nebraskan landscape is one of the most important symbols in the book. The small town brings the characters closer together and also brings the reader closer to the characters. You learn so much about each character in the book and feel like you know them as a person. This is all because of Willa Cather’s great description and choice to have the setting in a small town.

The second theme that is very consistent in Willa Cather’s writing is that characters have to choose whether or not to stay in the town that they have grown up in and known so well. In the short story, “A Wagner Matinee”, Clark’s aunt Georgina grew up in a small town and lived there for many years. One day though, she got on a train and went to visit Clark in Boston. This is an example of a character who chose to move away from their small town, but later came back. Clark took her to a musical performance because of her love of music. While listening to the performance, it brought back memories to her of her old town and made her cry. This is an example of characters having such a strong bond to their home town. Another example of a character living in a small town, leaving, and then coming back is in My Antonia. Jim Burden grew up and spent his whole life with his grandparents until he went off to college. He is a character who liked the outside world but also was very connected to his home town. He visited home many times but didn’t ever return for good.

Willa Cather was a great author with a unique, constant and enjoyable style of writing. She used her experiences from when she was younger and incorporated them into her stories. Although the setting usually remained similar, a small town somewhere (usually Nebraska), the plots and characters changed and brought new twists to each story.

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