Wagner Matinee Characterization In Essay Research Paper

Wagner Matinee, Characterization In Essay, Research Paper

Characterization in A Wagner Matinee

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 well to convey this through the repeated imagery.

Georgiana s statements throughout the novel also support the theme of regret and

sacrifice. Clark recalls a time when Georgiana opens her soul to him, and says Don t

love it so well Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your

sacrifice be it is not that. By saying this she is referring to, of course music. Her advice

to not love it so well is intensely pessimistic, influenced by the great pain she suffered

when she gave up her life ambition. Later in the only conversation that Clark and

Georgiana share at the concert, she remorsefully makes reference to the music they are

enjoying. And you ve been hearing this ever since you left me, Clark? she asks. Clark

calls the question the gentlest and saddest of reproaches . When she says this she is

almost jealous of her nephew. Her wistful remembrance and longing is made clear

through her words. Finally, at the end of the concert, she bursts into tears and cries out I

don t want to go Clark, I don t want to go! . This is a very direct and clear example that

her longing for the music she sacrificed is terrible and immense.

However, Aunt Georgiana s actions often speak volumes, and impart a greater

incite into the theme than even her words can convey. She had lived on a farm away from

civilization for thirty years, and so the transition back into the city was not an easy one.

She is described as being almost in a trance when she arrives. Her state of being does not

change throughout the story until she arrives at the matinee and she awakens . The only

thing that connects her back to the city she left so long ago is the music. When the

concert starts, it opens the flood gates to her memories. The very moment the first note is

played her hand darts out and clutches at Clark s coat sleeve. She does not release it until

that song is has come to an end. After this first ordeal she is able to calm herself

somewhat, but the music still controls her, seeming to sweep her away to another world.

As the concert continues, she fondly remembers her days at the conservatory as she

pantomimes the action of playing a piano on her dress. Through these actions and others

she demonstrates how dear to her the music that she left behind is.

Thus, Cather uses the characterization to illustrate the theme of sacrifice. The

vivid physical description presented makes the weight of Georgiana s decision clear.

Georgiana s words also provide great insight into how she feels. Indirect expressions,

which can be interpreted through her conscious and subconscious actions, are the most

solid representation of how the theme is demonstrated through characterization. Aunt

Georgiana is not a unique case, and although she is a fictional character, sacrifices like

hers are inevitably made every day. Sometimes there is no middle ground, and no matter

how great a love is, it must be abandoned for what is believed to be a greater good. The

regret and pain which accompany these sacrifices must be dealt with by each individual.


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