Willa Cather does a tolerable job shaping the story of “The Sculptor’s Funeral. ” There are many characters with hidden meanings that flow through the story.
Set in the early 1920’s, Cather tells of a young artist’s deceased body adventuring home with a mysterious follower. She speaks of the hidden meanings of the townspeople. Although the beginning is somewhat dry and slow, the scheme shifts toward the middle and end. Cather begins the story by outlining the men awaiting the sculptors body by train. There seemed to be several men standing around, but no one man seemed detached from the group besides the local lawyer, Jim Laird.Cather sticks Laird separate in the beginning to make Laird’s ending in the story, seem stronger and more important. The moment Mr.
Merrick, the deceased sculptor, arrived at the station, Cather sat him apart from the group. She explained the palm leaf which laid across the black cover of the coffin. She stated that the townspeople never saw a similar coffin.
When reread, Cather made it seem that Merrick had money. When picturing the leaf as a fancy part of the coffin, it just stuck out as shouting “Look at me, I’m rich! ” It was very surprising how Cather explained the puzzling “pupil” that rode in with Mr.Merrick. Cather presented Henry Steavens as a young Bostonian who looked up to Mr. Merrick for his work as an artist, or possibly a father figure. This was a revolting part.
When one eventually figures out that Steavens was actually Mr. Merrick’s lover, it’s a shock, yet irritating. Cather should have hinted more throughout the story of this secret relationship because she didn’t make the love between the two men feel strong at all. Cather made it seem that the town and its people had won the battle between heterosexuals and gays.
The story should have shown more openness.Cather should have shown that the townspeople definitely knew of this forbidden relationship. That would have made the story more interesting and fiery.
She could have put more debates of the latter throughout the story. If one would have guessed of any homosexual relations, it would have been Mr. Merrick and Jim Laird. Jim Laird stuck up for Mr. Merrick far more than Mr. Steavens. Steavens just sat around and let the watchmen humiliate his deceased partner, without even hinting to the others on being offended.
The next part of the story that was somewhat interesting was when Mr. Merrick’s mother came into the scene.Cather wrote, “The front door was wrenched open, and a tall, corpulent woman rushed out bareheaded into the snow and flung herself upon the coffin, shrieking: “My boy, my boy! And this is how you’ve come home to me! ” (Cather 47). This seemed like a genuine mother who had lost her son.
The last part made it seem that the mother hadn’t seen her son in some time. She made it seem like the mother missed Merrick, and that he didn’t visit home nearly as much as he should have. Cather wrote further, “Steavens turned away and closed his eyes with a shudder of unutterable repulsion” (Cather 47).It seemed peculiar that Cather chose those words to describe a grieving mother. This passage suggested that maybe the mother wasn’t as genuine a person as originally thought. Throughout the entire scene of the reaction of her dead child, the mother was entirely overdramatic.
It somewhat flowed as annoying, that she sought out attention in such a situation as this. What kind of mother does that? As Mr. Steavens was looking around throughout the room the coffin was laid, it struck him that this house that his lover grew up in didn’t seem fond of the work that Merrick had completed.Why else would the house have a “Rogers Group” of John Alden and Priscilla? ” It should have had their own son’s sculptures, or family photos at the least. That entry made it seem that Merrick’s work wasn’t appreciated by his family or friends. It seemed that art wasn’t taken seriously, possibly because it was way out of character from say, a farmer or banker? Merrick’s family possibly shunned him for running off instead of staying in their hometown. It also seemed that the mother ran the show, per say.
When the father became present from upstairs, his grief seemed very genuine.One could perceive him as being a weak soul that just did as his wife suggested. Towards the ending of the story, Mr.
Steavens was present in the dining room with the watchmen. Everyone’s sitting around telling stories of the deceased. Although, these stories are not happy or even positive.
Men are sitting around making Mr. Merrick seem like an outcast. They talk of Mr. Merrick wasting his father’s money on his education. They talk of Mr.
Merrick not knowing anything of stock. The coal and lumber dealer even went as far as saying Merrick wasn’t even fond of working!All the while, Steavens sat quietly letting these men speak ill of his lover. Until finally, Laird walked out in his lawyer personality. He was clearly upset and willing to put these men in their places. Laird began to speak of each man truthfully, yet stern. He didn’t care if any feelings were hurt.
A memorable part of Laird’s speech follows: “You pretend to have some sort of respect for me; and yet you’ll stand up and throw mud at Harvey Merrick, whose soul you couldn’t dirty and whose hands you couldn’t tie” (Cather 63).Laird knew the townspeople shunned Merrick for being different and not wanting anything to do with stealing people’s money by charging too high of interest than needed. The town couldn’t dirty his soul or tie his hands to make Merrick want any part of it. Then towards the ending of the story, Cather ruined Laird’s heroism by saying, “The next day, Jim Laird was drunk and unable to attend the funeral services” (Cather 64). That put an ending to the well worded speech.
This was perceived as meaning Laird was just a drunk and wasn’t such a great friend after all, since he couldn’t even attend the funeral of someone he showed so much respect towards. Cather put Laird’s drinking ahead of the importance of his friend in this part. Overall, this story had many underlying meanings and several characters with hidden meanings as well.
This story could relate to a current audience today by showing how one individual doesn’t need his hometown to shape who he is as an important human being or who he should become.Cather made Merrick seem somewhat as brave, because he didn’t care what others thought. He was his own person. It also felt as if Cather was trying to show how education divides family and friends. Mr. Merrick had several years of ongoing education and Cather showed how his family and townspeople didn’t approve of his choices. Education probably wasn’t deemed necessary in those times.
But despite what anyone thought, Mr. Merrick did what he wanted to do, proving that education does put a strain on older relationships, and that not everyone thought education was so important.