The Sculptor's Funeral

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"The Sculptor's Funeral" is a short story by Willa Cather. It was first published in McClure's in 1905[1]

Plot summary[edit]

In the fictional small town of Sand City, Kansas, the body of Harvey Merrick, a famed sculptor, is brought back to his parents' house. Only Jim Laird, Harvey's old friend, and Henry Steavens, his student, have any real emotion. While the mother cries out in overdone and insincere grief, Steavens and Laird remark on the sculptor's harsh upbringing, and wonder how he ever made it out of the town. Later, the mother, showing her cruelty, yells at her maid for forgetting to do the salad dressing. Before the funeral, when the town's leading citizens make fun of Merrick for his education and eastern lifestyle, Laird then lashes out at them, attacking their hypocrisy in criticizing Harvey for faults of which they themselves are guilty, then exposing the corruption of their ideals, along with their practice of usury, gambling, shootings and so forth. Only Harvey escaped the corruption, and Laird alleges that this was why the town's leaders hated him. The next day, Laird, who is disgusted with himself for never having done what Harvey did (find a life elsewhere), is too drunk to attend the funeral. The story ends with the notation that Laird dies of a cold shortly thereafter.

Characters[edit]

  • A group of townspeople
  • Mr Harvey Merrick, a late sculptor with a 'lady-like voice'. He went to college in Boston.
  • Annie, Harvey's mother.
  • Martin,Harvey's father.
  • Roxy, the mulatto maid in the Merricks's household.
  • Jim Laird, the red-bearded lawyer.
  • Philip Phelps, the banker.
  • Elder, another banker.
  • Thompson, the undertaker.
  • Henry Steavens, a student of Harvey's.

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

It has been argued that the short story was foreshadowed by Willa Cather's poem "The Night Express." Harvey's prototype was the Pittsburgh-born artist Charles Stanley Reinhart. Cather wrote a feature story about the first anniversary of his death of Reinhart in 1897, when a monument was raised in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.[2]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, page 588
  2. ^ Bernice Slote, 'Willa Cather and Her First Book', Willa Cather, April Twilights, University of Nebraska Press, 1968, page xlii

External links[edit]