Setting In Willa Cathers Novels
To strip away setting in Willa Cather's novels would be as detrimental as taking away all adjectives and descriptive characteristics of characters and plot. Setting provides the depth that gives Cather's novels rich texture of experience, particularly at a time when the landscape of America was changing rapidly and readers today can hardly relate to an America that was an open frontier.
Willa Cather wrote the fiction of the frontier at a time when the land was clashing with a new culture of development that would change the landscape indelibly. To illustrate the cultural change of setting, Cather focused on the influx of the immigrant in several of her novels. She showed marvel and genuine admiration for the immigrant in her novel My Antonia with detailed reflection on the lives of Bohemian, Swedish and other immigrant people of the Midwest. The significance of placing the diversity in America within the setting of her novels gives credence to the fact that the frontier was a mixture of Old World cultures creating a New World.
This mixture of the old world creating a new world clashes when the setting of the frontier is introduced. This clash is represented in My Antonia by Shimerda's battle with the land. Shimerda refused to let go of the old traditions of Europe and thus drove himself into his grave failing to adapt to the enormous power of the land. Thus the setting of the story (the frontier and the land) takes on a life of its own when it is able to crush a man.