A Lost Lady Essay, Research Paper
In Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, we meet Marian Forrester through the eyes of a young boy who idolizes her as a maternal and romantic figure. The title is deceptively simple. The main focus of the narrative is Mrs. Forrester, so one would immediately assume that the title is referring to her. However, by delving deeply into the text, it becomes apparent that the title actually highlights the three central themes of the novel: Mrs. Forrester’s deterioration, the loss of Niel’s high regard for her, and the loss of the pioneering era [GOOD-SHE "DETERIORATES" IN A WAY, BUT SHE ALSO GETS OUT OF SWEETWATER AND REGAINS SOME SEMBLANCE OF HER FORMER LIFE. SHE CAN LIVE WITH A DIMINISHED THING. NIEL WANTS HER TO IMMOLATE HERSELF ON THE CAPTAIN'S FUNERAL PYRE.]. The deterioration of Mrs. Forrester is the most obvious interpretation of the title.
Because he idolizes her, there is no middle ground in Niel’s perception and Mrs. Forrester is presented as being exceedingly good when living up to his expectations [EXACTLY-"HIS PERCEPTIONS"] or exceedingly bad when she does not. For example, when Niel breaks his arm, he is only concerned with the beauty and smell of Mrs. Forrester, not with his own pain:
What soft fingers Mrs. Forrester had, and what a lovely lady she was. Inside the lace ruffle of her dress he saw her white throat rising and falling so quickly. (p.13) [NOTE THE INCIPIENT SEXUAL 0BSERVATION OF HER THROAT]
Later, when he finds Mrs. Forrester in a compromising position, his image [GOOD CHOICE OF WORDS-"HIS IMAGE"]of her is ruined:
In his hand he still carried the prickly bunch of wild roses. He threw them over the wire fence into a mud-hole the cattle had trampled under the bank of the creek . . . “Lilies that fester,” he muttered, “lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”(p.47)
Through careful reading of the text we get a more accurate picture of Marian Forrester’s true character when she relates how she met her husband. Having fallen off a cliff and broken both legs, she was carried by Captain Forrester back to camp. Her legs began to heal while waiting for a doctor to arrive and had to be rebroken and set correctly. Marian Forrester is a survivor. Cather has intertwined the theme of violence and falling with male/female interaction. Niel’s fall and resulting broken arm are juxtaposed with Mrs. Forrester’s fall and rescue by Captain Forrester. [EXCELLENT!! YOU HAVE THE OBSERVATION, NOW START WORKING ON MORE DEVELOPED INTERPRETATION-THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANT TO SEE IN THE RESPONSES!! YOU DO NOT HAVE A POLISHED READING YET, BUT YOU HAVE SOME CLOSE READING TO MAKE A CREATIVE CONNECTION. LOOK SIRECTLY AT HOW THESE THINGS ARE PRESENTED AND DEVELOP FROM THERE]
I believe [AVOID "I BELIEVE," "I THINK," "IN MY OPINION"-MAKE THE ASSERTION AND THEN DEMONSTRATE IT; A READING SHOULD STEM FROM CLOSE, REASONABLE ANALYSIS, NOT BELIEF, SO LET YOUR WORD CHOICE REFELCT THAT] that the book’s title refers more to Neil’s perception of Mrs. Forrester as being somehow lost rather than a reflection of the actual situation [YES-GOOD UNDERSTANDING OF THE NOVEL], since Mrs. Forrester proves herself unexpectedly resourceful in many ways. She is able to deal with reality far better than Niel. Over the course of the story, her husband loses his fortune, becomes an invalid, and eventually dies. She is able to deal with all these things with resourcefulness, but Niel initially views her resourcefulness as disloyalty to her husband and a way of life he has romanticized. Diametrically, Niel is most affected by the Captain’s words:
. . . a thing that is dreamed of in the way I mean, is already an accomplished fact. All our great West has been developed from such dreams; the homesteader’s and the prospector’s and the contractor’s. We dreamed the railroads across the mountains, just as I dreamed my place on the Sweet Water. (p.29) [THE CAPTAIN'S LOGIC HERE IS A BIT SUSPECT; ELSEWHERE IN THIS CONVERSATION, HE GIVES HIS "PHILOSOPHY": "WHAT YOU THINK OF AND PLAN FOR DAY BY DAY, IN SPITE OF YOURSELF, SO TO SPEAK-YOU WILL GET. . . . THAT IS, UNLESS YOU ARE ONE OF THE PEOPLE WHO GET NOTHING IN THIS WORLD." THE LOGIC IS SELF-CANCELING, SO HIS "PHILOSOPHY" AMOUNTS TO NOTHING. IN THE CONTEXT YOU ARE USING, CONSIDER HOW THE FIRST SENTENCE OF THE PHILOSOPHY IRONICALLY REFLECTS WHAT NIEL DOES TO HIMSELF]
Niel tries to hold on to the past, as if it were a mythological dream, while around him the world changes. This philosophy is reinterpreted sarcastically by Niel in Part II, Chapter 1. After meeting Ivy Peters on the train he thinks, “[The Ivy Peters] would drink up the mirage.” (p.90). He sees the draining of the marsh as a metaphor for the decline of the western spirit. [OF COURSE, YOUR "HE SEES' IS IMPORTANT, SINCE NIEL'S "SEEING" IS OFTEN SOMEWHAT BLIND-THERE IS SOMETHING HEROIS ABOUT THIS AGE, BUT IS IT AS HEROIC AS NIEL WOULD HAVE IT? OR THE NARRATOR, WHO IS NOT IDENTICAL WITH CATHER-SHE ORIGINALLY WROTE THIS IN THE FIRST PERSON WITH NIEL AS THE NARRATOR-THAT WAS TOO OBVIOUS, SO SHE SWITCHED TO THIRD-PERSON AND ENDED WITH A MUCH MORE SOPHISTICATED AND TRICKY NARRATIVE VOICE]
The ruin of the Forresters represents the end of regional America. People such as Ivy Peters take over and become successful, forming a national society of wealth. The old world is now forever “lost.” It can therefore be concluded that the title, A Lost Lady, is extremely universal and clever in that it envelops the three central themes of the novel.