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A Note C Y N T H I A J. A N D E S , Colorado State University The Bohemian Folk Practice in “ Neighbour Rosicky” Willa Cather captured the essense of one of the most charming and sincere immigrants in American literature with her portrait of Anton Rosicky. Rosicky, is an old Bohemian, who brought with him to his new homeland, an indestructible optimism about life. The optimistic spirit enables him to meet each adverse situation he encounters in America, with positive action. The primary example of Rosicky’s incredible optimism is his success in winning the sublime affection of his city-bred American daughter-in-law, Polly. Although Rosicky initially understands that Polly is having a difficult time adjusting to her new relatives because, “she was sensitive about having married a foreigner,”1he enables her to overcome this barrier. For after exposing her “tender heart” (p. 109) to Rosicky, Polly realizes that “nobody in the world, not her mother, not Rudolph or anyone, really loved her as much as old Rosicky” (p. 108). Sensing this awakening in his daughter-in-law, Rosicky was confident that this was a positive sign that “everything came out right in the end,” p. 109.) Still another minor incident in the story characterizes Rosicky as a man incapable of losing his optimistic spirit. This incident concerns Rosicky’s conduct after he discovers the hot winds have destroyed the corn crops. After Mrs. Rosicky retells the story of this disaster to her children, she emphasizes the positive behavior of 1Willa Cather, “Neighbour Rosicky’* in Five Stories (New York: Vintage Books, 1956), p. 90. All other references will be from this edition. 64 Western American Literature her husband in comparison to that of their “discouraged” and “miserable” neighbors (p. 98). Although it would have been out of character for Rosicky to react to this situation with a pessimistic attitude, his course of ac­ tion indicates that his Bohemian traditions may have prompted his positive behavior. After discovering his corn crop is a total failure, Rosicky did not tell his wife of the tragedy, but surprised her by making the suggestion, “ Let’s have a picnic in the orchard. We’ll eat supper behind the mulberry hedge, under them linden trees” (p. 98). This decision is not so astonishing, however, when it is understood in terms of a Bohemian folk practice, which Cather may have consciously used in making Rosicky an authentic Bohemian char­ acter. For according to the Old World Bohemian folk custom, “Crumbs and leftovers from women making bread on Good Friday are burned in the orchard to insure a plentiful yield from the fruit trees.”2 Although Good Friday is a day of passive lament through­ out the Christian world, Rosicky symbolically performs this ritualis­ tic practice on the Fourth of July, a day celebrating the indepen­ dent action of Americans. Thus, Willa Cather has Rosicky engage in the same type of joyful independent action when he has a picnic in spite of the corn crop failure. His decision seems to reaffirm not only his faith in a plentiful yield for the future, but also his application of Old World practices to New World problems. Instead of lamenting his material losses as do his neighbors, Rosicky has drawn upon the American pioneer spirit which the others have forgotten. As a result of his positive attitude, Mrs. Rosicky was able to say, “we enjoyed ourselves that year” (p. 98). In other words, Cather seems to be echoing Bohemi­ an folk practice by hinting that the picnic-ritual under the linden trees has brought good luck to the Rosickys. Although we cannot know that Willa Cather was actually aware of this particular Bohemian folk practice, we do know that she spent a great deal of time listening to the Bohemian women in the town of Red Cloud, who told her stories about their lives in the old country.3 Yet knowing that such practice was among the traditions of the Old World Bohemians, illuminates our understanding of Rosicky’s never ceasing optimism in his new homeland. 8Albert Lord, Slavic Folklore (Philadelphia: American Folklore Society, 1956), p. 85. a James Woodress, Willa Cather: Her Life and Art...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 63-64
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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