Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A. in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Annette Trefzer

Second Advisor

Jaime Harker

Third Advisor

Kathryn McKee

Relational Format

dissertation/thesis

Abstract

Willa Cather is universally lauded for her ability to render landscape into prose. Critics have observed for years that the landscape often functions as the main character in her fiction, or that her characters can easily be evaluated in terms of how deep and successful their relationships to the land are. In an attempt to evaluate Cather’s treatment of two different “Western” landscapes, I will focus first on My Ántonia, one of her most famous Nebraska novels, and second on Death Comes for the Archbishop, whose narrative unravels on the New Mexican landscape. I argue that Cather treats these spaces differently. In My Ántonia, she maps a horizontal space and a land that is shallow, with little room to acknowledge the Native American history that existed in Nebraska before the characters in her novel arrived. In Death Comes for the Archbishop, she writes a vertical space that allows a greater degree of visibility of all that is naturally inherent in the land. Throughout both novels, I track a phenomenon that I call the ecogothic, which serves to disturb and unsettle the pastoral and romantic expositions of the land that Cather is known for. These disturbances make us aware of a diverse and oftentimes troubling history in both spaces.

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