“Ruin and new birth; the shudder of ugly things in the past, the trembling image of beautiful ones on the horizon; finding and losing; that was life, he saw.” A mother’s love for a distressed son. A son’s love for his emotionally-abused and pious mother. A young man pondering life and what it has to offer. A war that has to be fought. A protagonist who feels the pull of duty to a war that summons American lives. If this is not a book about the inner turmoils of war and one’s psychological batt
The “trembling image of beautiful ones on the horizon,” this is what haunts Claude. As usual, Cather gives us a portrait of American landscape and personality, with World War I as a complementary backdrop. With male antipathy elucidated, this novel placed me within Claude’s centermost thoughts, as he questioned what he deemed his lack of contribution to life, and his timidity as it related to his parents:
He sneered at himself for his lack of spirit. If he had to do with strangers, he told himself, he could take up a case and fight for it. He could not assert himself against his father or mother, but he could be bold enough with the rest of the world.
When we consider the brave men and women who go off to war, we consider the many factors that contribute to their decisions; it takes determination, drive, and perhaps some psychological factor that sets these individuals apart from the rest of us – this is what Cather seems to be exploring in this Pulitzer-prize-winning novel.
The debris of human life was more worthless and ugly than the dead and decaying things in nature. Rubbish, junk…his mind could not picture anything that so exposed and condemned all the dreary, weary, ever-repeated actions by which life is continued from day to day…he could not help thinking how much better it would be if people could go to sleep like the fields; could be blanketed down under the snow, to wake with their hurts healed and their defeats forgotten.
This is a slow-moving psychological journey I made with Claude: from naive young farmer, to worldly soldier and man. Although it takes some time to get going, the first half of the book is appealing, when the Nebraska landscape seems to move with Claude’s inner thought. Disillusioned, he wonders whether the farming life is the life for him, especially since he craves the intellectual lives of his friends, the Elriches:
Could it really be he, who was airing his opinions in this indelicate manner? He caught himself using words that had never crossed his lips before, that in his mind were associated only with the printed page.
The last part of the novel was a disconcerting and painful read, as death was encapsulated. Although I wasn’t always in concert with the war scenes and the subplots within the major war plot, I was always alongside Claude, so imagine my disappointment when he became the exemplification of disquietude. It’s not too often that a main character draws you close to him and then abandons you; however, I rested assured that Claude found meaning in life. Safety and security weren’t his goals, instead, he wanted his life to be a contribution to some cause greater than himself; and this it was:
To be assured, at his age, of three meals a day and plenty of sleep, was like being assured of a decent burial. Safety, security; if you followed that reasoning out, then the unborn, those who would never be born, were the safest of all; nothing could happen to them.