Neighbour Rosicky Essay

"Neighbour Rosicky" is a short story by Willa Cather. It appeared in the Woman's Home Companion in 1930, under the title "Neighbor Rosicky".[2] In 1932, it was published in the collection Obscure Destinies.

Part One[edit]

“Neighbour Rosicky” is the story of a 65-year-old Czech farmer, Anton Rosicky, who now resides in Nebraska with his wife and six children. The story begins with Anton at Dr. Ed Burleigh’s office, where he learns that he has a bad heart. The doctor informs him that he can no longer continue to work the fields, and should stick to less strenuous chores about the home and barn.

The Rosicky family’s kindness is reflected in Dr. Burleigh’s (whom the family refers to as “Dr. Ed”) recollection of the hospitality shown in their home after delivering a neighbor’s baby. He feels sorry for them, as they never flourish in life despite their compassion for others.

Part Two[edit]

On his way home from the doctor’s, Rosicky stops at the general store to buy fabric and candy for his wife. Before returning home, he stops to admire the graveyard that borders his property. The snow reminds him that winter brings rest for nature and man.

When he arrives home he explains to his wife that his heart “ain’t so good like it used to be.” Together they recall their loving marriage, and the difference between themselves and the other farmers in the area. The Rosickys prefer to live happy and keep their children healthy, rather than having money and selling their cream off to a creamery.

Part Three[edit]

Out of worry, Mary travels to see Dr. Burleigh to find out more about Rosicky’s heart. After her visit, she talks with her boys to make sure that he is not doing anything too strenuous. Finally, Rosicky stops fighting and gives in to the doctor’s orders.

Rosicky spends his time that winter staying indoors doing carpentry and tailoring. He kept all of his tools in on a shelf in “Father’s corner.” While sewing, he begins thinking about his past tailoring in New York City when he first came to America. Although his wages were adequate, he did not save any money because he loaned it out to friends, went to the opera, and spent it on girls. He was unhappy in the city, and realized that he needed to be in contact with the earth; so at the age of 35, he moved west to Nebraska to start a new life as a farmer.

Part Four[edit]

Rosicky’s oldest son, Rudolph, and his “American” wife, Polly, rent a farm close by. Rosicky is worried about their marriage because Polly is a city girl, not used to having to be on a farm. He is concerned that because of Polly’s unhappiness, Rudolph will take a job in the city where he can make more money, and she can be around the life she is accustomed to. Rosicky offers to loan them the family car to go into town on this and future Saturday evenings. To make sure they go out that night, Rosicky also does the dishes and cleans up the kitchen for Polly.

Part Five[edit]

On the day before Christmas, Rosicky is reminded of his time in London, where he was faced with the difficulties of finding food and shelter. He begins to worry about the crops and if they will be able to handle the tough winter that is ahead of them. Mary attempts to lighten the mood by reminding him of a year in which the heat destroyed the crops around the Fourth of July, and how he showed no despair at that time. This is followed by numerous stories told back and forth amongst the family, one of which recounts an episode when Rosicky was in London and stole a goose from his landlady. Afterwards, he felt such guilt that he searched the city to find a way to replace it, eventually meeting wealthy Czechs who gave him the money he needed. Polly is extremely moved by this story, and decides that she wants to invite Rudolph’s family to their home for New Year’s dinner.

Part Six[edit]

At the end of the story, Rosicky imagines the future of his children and hopes that they do not suffer like he did throughout the beginning part of his life. Rosicky goes to Rudolph’s farm to help him tend to the alfalfa field. The strenuous labor causes him to have a heart attack, and Polly comes to Rosicky’s aid and calls him “Father” for the first time. She realizes that his gratefulness and compassion comes across as a love that no one has ever shown her before. Rudolph and Polly later take Rosicky back to his home, where he dies the next morning.

At the end of the story, Dr. Burleigh stops at the graveyard where Rosicky is buried to pay his respects. He reflects on Rosicky’s fulfilling life and how it “seemed to him complete and beautiful.”

Literary criticism[edit]

Willa Cather migrated in 1883 with her family to the plains of Nebraska. This move gave her firsthand experience in order to write stories of the immigrant experience. Clifton Fadiman, in a review of Cather’s work, states “no one has better commemorated the virtues of the Bohemian and Scandinavian immigrants whose enterprise and heroism won an empire.”[3]

In “Neighbour Rosicky” Cather portrays a realistic image of the immigration and settlement process, through Anton Rosicky’s story. She specifically represents the Czech immigrant ideals which are independence, hard work, family unity, and freedom. [4]


External links[edit]

  1. ^Billesbach, Ann E. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: Pavelka Farmstead".Nebraska State Historical Society. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  2. ^Bucker, Park. "'That Kitchen with the Shining Windows': Willa Cather's 'Neighbour Rosicky' and the Women's Home Companion". In Willa Cather and Material Culture: Real-World Writing, Writing The Real World, ed. by Janis Stout. University of Alabama Press, 2005. pp. 66–77. According to Bucker, Cather used British spellings such as "colour" and "plough" for the latter part of her career, beginning in the early 1920s.
  3. ^Fadiman, Clifford. Rev. of "Neighbour Rosicky" by Willa Cather. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Detroit: Gale, 1983, 94-96.
  4. ^Moore, Kendra L.. "Willa Cather's "Neighbour Rosicky"; Painting a Realistic Portrait of Immigrant Life in Nebraska." Teaching Cather 2.2Spring 2002 04 Apr 2008,

At first glance, Neighbour Rosicky appears to be a short story about a farmer and his family; however, there is much more beneath the surface. Rosicky is a representation of immigrants, in general. He is the epitome of the “American Dream,” with slight alterations. The “American Dream” is supposed to be about having a loving spouse with 2 children, a little dog, and a white picket fence; however, people have added in wealth and larger houses to the original simple dream.

Rosicky is a very family oriented man, and feels himself to be of no use unless he is working. Cather writes about Rosicky as a sort of emblem for the human race which is becoming lazy and degenerated. Modernist writers see that people have changed their “American Dreams” to be about greed, and their lives are not simple, people are becoming more corrupt, as a whole, and not fixating on the important, simple things in life. Rosicky is about the simpler things in life, he is about family, and hard work; he does not feel the need to be wealthy or obtain more possessions than his neighbor.

Rosicky’s demeanor is comparable to Harper Lee’s character, Atticus Finch; in To Kill A Mockingbird, with both characters, what you see is what you get. Neighbors would whisper about Rosicky, “wondering why Rosicky didn’t get on faster. He was industrious, and so were his boys, but they were rather free and easy, weren’t pushers…They were comfortable, they were out of debt, but they didn’t get much ahead.” (1835).

I feel as though Rosicky is almost a representation of life before modernism came to life. Rosicky is happiest on a farm, living comfortably, and happily rather than in a big city, racing around and trying to “get ahead.” Cather appears to be taking a step back into a time when life was simpler and was about the finer, simpler, and more important things in life. Rosicky and his family were noted, by Dr. Burleigh “people as generous and warm-hearted and affectionate as the Rosickys never got ahead much; maybe you couldn’t enjoy your life and put it into the bank, too.” (1835).

It seems to me that the modernist way of life is about everything moving at a faster pace. The 20th century brings in technology, ideas of people needing to acquire more wealth and more earthly possessions than the next person. Life is not simple, it becomes more complex, and people lose focus of the bigger picture, of family, values, and morals. However, Cather appears to pen Rosicky as the opposite of the “typical” modern person; he does not care to acquire more wealth than the next person or have a better job, he cares about raising a good family and having the land continue down in generations to come. Rosicky almost appears to emerge as saint-like or sacred, especially after Polly’s encounter with him.

Polly, Rosicky’s daughter-in-law, finds herself through encounters with Rosicky. Polly’s revelation seems to be about the hope of redemption. In other words, it’s as though Polly is a representation of Americans, and her revelation is about hope, a hope of redeeming oneself, a hope for a better life and a better future ahead. Polly realizes, “…had a sudden feeling that nobody in the world, not her mother, not Rudolph, or anyone, really loved her as much as old Rosicky did. It perplexed her…It was as if Rosicky had a special gift for loving people…like an ear for music or an eye for colour. It was quiet, unobtrusive; it was merely there. You saw it in his eyes…You felt it in his hands, too.” (1850).

It feels and reads as though Polly has come to an epiphany, a realization that there is a better life out there, there are people in the world who care and who love with all their hearts, and sometimes there are things more important than living in a big city trying to “get ahead,” to acquire the so-called, new founded “American Dream,” there’s something in life to go after – happiness.

At the end, Rosicky dies, and is returned to the earth. He is returned to nature, and buried in the ground – a part of the land he loved so very much. Rosicky remains a part of life – neighbors and family will pass the cemetery on their way to town, his animals will eat the fodder during the winder, and “Nothing could be more undeathlike than this place; nothing could be more right for a man who had helped to do the work of great cities and had always longed for the open country and had got to it at last. Rosicky’s life seemed to him complete and beautiful.” (1852).

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