English 1020, sec. 01
October 1, 2014
Short story essay
During the 1800's there was an increase in immigration to the Great Plains due to an abundance of free land offered by the Homestead Act. Many individuals and families went west to seek their fortune and a home on what was once called the great American desert. Moving westward was a difficult process, and many were forced to leave their old lives behind completely. In "A Wagner Matinee," written by Willa Cather, the characterization of Aunt Georgiana, a woman who leaves Boston to elope with a young man going west, is used to illustrate the theme; that sometimes decisions need to be made, and although one might regret it, one love must be sacrificed for another. One way that Cather uses characterization to illustrate this theme is through direct statements about Georgiana and physical descriptions. Right away Cather tells us that Georgiana is, or was, a pianist of some accomplishment. She once worked as an instructor at the Boston Conservatory of Music. For a woman to achieve this status in the time "A Wagner Matinee" is set was an extraordinary thing. The music she chose to give up was surely something she loved very dearly and was very proud of. The physical description of Aunt Georgiana shows the hardships she had to endure because of her sacrifice. The narrator of the story, Georgiana's nephew Clark, describes her as having yellow and leathery skin, and wearing ill-fitting false teeth. These physical defects were the result of a pitiless wind and the alkaline water, along with other hardships of the Nebraska frontier. The most biting description of Aunt Georgiana is the repeated image of her hands. She was once a great pianist, but from work on the farm in Nebraska, her hands have been reduced to twisted knots of flesh, with oddly bent, tentacle-like fingers. This description best illustrates her sacrifice, as her hands were the most vital thing to her musical essence, and Cather does...
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