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Neighbor Rosicky
1. List two character traits possessed by the character Anton Rosicky.
Loving husband, tailor, immigrant, farmer, father, friend, warm, gentle, generous and
compassionate. He was content and complete in his life when he died.
2. Identify one conflict in the life of Anton Rosicky. Support your answer with specific
reference to the story.
The individual v. society. Rosicky is in London on Christmas eve and is walking all over
town searching for help because he ate the Christmas goose and he looks into the German
restaurant and can see people partying, he asks people that are coming out of the parties
help him, he had never begged for food before.
3. Review the definition of flashbacks in the Literary Glossary (2.3). What insight into
Rosicky’s character (especially his motivation) does the reader gain from his flashbacks
about his life in London?
That he was very poor but was thankful to the tailor that took him in and gave him a
place to sleep. This flashback helps you understand that he doesn’t need a lot of money
just food in his belly and his family to make him happy. He is thankful for all he has and
the people that helped him during his life.
4. Examine the parts of the story that come before and after the flashback to London. How
do the flashback help the reader understand these events?
His son is thinking about going to the city to make money. He does not want his son to go
to the city to get a job and work for someone and never be able to enjoy life. He is trying
to get his son to realize that as long as you have food, clean water and shelter you are not
poor.
5. What insight into Rosicky’s character (especially his motivation) does the reader gain
from his flashbacks about his life in New York?
2.3 DISCUSSION
2
That his life in New York was exciting, he worked, got an education, was industrious and
enjoyed the city life but was missing something and it unsettled him.
6. Examine the parts of the story that come before and after the flashbacks to New York.
How do the flashbacks help the reader understand these events?
Right after, he gives his son and daughter in law his truck to take into town, he states that
“it’s hard for a town girl to be a farmer’s wife”. Polly opens up to him and talks about
wanting to give a big city a chance.
7. At one point in the story, Anton says the following, “I guess the only thing is for me to
git a new one [heart].” How is this statement significant? Does it foreshadow a change in
him by the end of the story? Explain your answer.
She is able to view himas part of her family, she now calls him Father. He finds out that
Polly is pregnant with his first grandchild.
8. Identify two things that Rosicky values, and evaluate them according to your own values
and experience.
Rosicky values a happy life living off the land for his children.
He values comfort of peaceful and loving home.
9. Identify a universal truth about human nature that is suggested through the characters and
events in this story.
Rosicky decided to have a picnic instead and just focused on what he had and made the
best of it. It’s the human nature to be like Rosicky and put a smile on their face and be
thankful for the help they have and not moan about what is lacking.
2.3 DISCUSSION
3
10. Draft a thesis statement for this story using the format you have learned in this class.
Make sure to include two specific literary devices and a universal theme.
In “Neighbor Rosicky” Willa Cather used characterization to describe an immigrant who
has lived a fulfilled life.
References
Cather, W., Dolch, M., & Hagopian, J. V. (1989). Neighbour Rosicky (pp. 587-618).
Houghton Mifflin.
NEIGHBOUR ROSICKY
By Willa Cather
I
When Doctor Burleigh told neighbour Rosicky he had a bad heart, Rosicky protested.
“So? No, I guess my heart was always pretty good. I got a little asthma, maybe. Just awful short
breath when I was pitchin’ hay last summer, dat’s all.”
“Well now, Rosicky, if you know more about it than I do, what did you come to me for? It’s your
heart that makes you short of breath, I tell you. You’re sixty-five years old, and you’ve always worked
hard, and your heart’s tired. You’ve got to be careful from now on, and you can’t do heavy work any
more. You’ve got five boys at home to do it for you.”
The old farmer looked up at the Doctor with a gleam of amusement in his queer triangular-shaped
eyes. His eyes were large and lively, but the lids were caught up in the middle in a curious way, so
that they formed a triangle. He did not look like a sick man. His brown face was creased but not
wrinkled, he had a ruddy colour in his smooth-shaven cheeks and in his lips, under his long brown
moustache. His hair was thin and ragged around his ears, but very little grey. His forehead, naturally
high and crossed by deep parallel lines, now ran all the way up to his pointed crown. Rosicky’s face
had the habit of looking interested,–suggested a contented disposition and a reflective quality that
was gay rather than grave. This gave him a certain detachment, the easy manner of an onlooker and
observer.
“Well, I guess you ain’t got no pills fur a bad heart, Doctor Ed. I guess the only thing is fur me to git
me a new one.”
Doctor Burleigh swung round in his desk-chair and frowned at the old farmer. “I think if I were you
I’d take a little care of the old one, Rosicky.”
Rosicky shrugged. “Maybe I don’t know how. I expect you mean fur me not to drink my coffee no
more.”
“I wouldn’t, in your place. But you’ll do as you choose about that. I’ve never yet been able to separate
a Bohemian from his coffee or his pipe. I’ve quit trying. But the sure thing is you’ve got to cut out
farm work. You can feed the stock and do chores about the barn, but you can’t do anything in the
fields that makes you short of breath.”
“How about shelling corn?”
“Of course not!”
Rosicky considered with puckered brows.
1
“I can’t make my heart go no longer’n it wants to, can I, Doctor Ed?”
“I think it’s good for five or six years yet, maybe more, if you’ll take the strain off it. Sit around the
house and help Mary. If I had a good wife like yours, I’d want to stay around the house.”
His patient chuckled. “It ain’t no place fur a man. I don’t like no old man hanging round the kitchen
too much. An’ my wife, she’s a awful hard worker her own self.”
“That’s it; you can help her a little. My Lord, Rosicky, you are one of the few men I know who has a
family he can get some comfort out of; happy dispositions, never quarrel among themselves, and they
treat you right. I want to see you live a few years and enjoy them.”
“Oh, they’re good kids, all right,” Rosicky assented.
The Doctor wrote him a prescription and asked him how his oldest son, Rudolph, who had married in
the spring, was getting on. Rudolph had struck out for himself, on rented land. “And how’s Polly? I
was afraid Mary mightn’t like an American daughter-in-law, but it seems to be working out all right.”
“Yes, she’s a fine girl. Dat widder woman bring her daughters up very nice. Polly got lots of spunk,
an’ she got some style, too. Da’s nice, for young folks to have some style.” Rosicky inclined his head
gallantly. His voice and his twinkly smile were an affectionate compliment to his daughter-in-law.
“It looks like a storm, and you’d better be getting home before it comes. In town in the car?” Doctor
Burleigh rose.
“No, I’m in de wagon. When you got five boys, you ain’t got much chance to ride round in de Ford. I
ain’t much for cars, noway.”
“Well, it’s a good road out to your place; but I don’t want you bumping around in a wagon much. And
never again on a hay-rake, remember!”
Rosicky placed the Doctor’s fee delicately behind the desk-telephone, looking the other way, as if this
were an absent-minded gesture. He put on his plush cap and his corduroy jacket with a sheepskin
collar, and went out.
The Doctor picked up his stethoscope and frowned at it as if he were seriously annoyed with the
instrument. He wished it had been telling tales about some other man’s heart, some old man who
didn’t look the Doctor in the eye so knowingly, or hold out such a warm brown hand when he said
good-bye. Doctor Burleigh had been a poor boy in the country before he went away to medical
school; he had known Rosicky almost ever since he could remember, and he had a deep affection for
Mrs. Rosicky.
Only last winter he had had such a good breakfast at Rosicky’s, and that when he needed it. He had
been out all night on a long, hard confinement case at Tom Marshall’s,–a big rich farm where there
was plenty of stock and plenty of feed and a great deal of expensive farm machinery of the newest
model, and no comfort whatever. The woman had too many children and too much work, and she was
no manager. When the baby was born at last, and handed over to the assisting neighbour woman, and
2
the mother was properly attended to, Burleigh refused any breakfast in that slovenly house, and drove
his buggy–the snow was too deep for a car–eight miles to Anton Rosicky’s place. He didn’t know
another farm-house where a man could get such a warm welcome, and such good strong coffee with
rich cream. No wonder the old chap didn’t want to give up his coffee!
He had driven in just when the boys had come back from the barn and were washing up for breakfast.
The long table, covered with a bright oilcloth, was set out with dishes waiting for them, and the warm
kitchen was full of the smell of coffee and hot biscuit and sausage. Five big handsome boys, running
from twenty to twelve, all with what Burleigh called natural good manners,–they hadn’t a bit of the
painful self-consciousness he himself had to struggle with when he was a lad. One ran to put his horse
away, another helped him off with his fur coat and hung it up, and Josephine, the youngest child and
the only daughter, quickly set another place under her mother’s direction.
With Mary, to feed creatures was the natural expression of affection,–her chickens, the calves, her
big hungry boys. It was a rare pleasure to feed a young man whom she seldom saw and of whom she
was as proud as if he belonged to her. Some country housekeepers would have stopped to spread a
white cloth over the oilcloth, to change the thick cups and plates for their best china, and the woodenhandled knives for plated ones. But not Mary.
“You must take us as you find us, Doctor Ed. I’d be glad to put out my good things for you if you was
expected, but I’m glad to get you any way at all.”
He knew she was glad,–she threw back her head and spoke out as if she were announcing him to the
whole prairie. Rosicky hadn’t said anything at all; he merely smiled his twinkling smile, put some
more coal on the fire, and went into his own room to pour the Doctor a little drink in a medicine
glass. When they were all seated, he watched his wife’s face from his end of the table and spoke to her
in Czech. Then, with the instinct of politeness which seldom failed him, he turned to the Doctor and
said slyly; “I was just tellin’ her not to ask you no questions about Mrs. Marshall till you eat some
breakfast. My wife, she’s terrible fur to ask questions.”
The boys laughed, and so did Mary. She watched the Doctor devour her biscuit and sausage, too
much excited to eat anything herself. She drank her coffee and sat taking in everything about her
visitor. She had known him when he was a poor country boy, and was boastfully proud of his success,
always saying: “What do people go to Omaha for, to see a doctor, when we got the best one in the
State right here?” If Mary liked people at all, she felt physical pleasure in the sight of them, personal
exultation in any good fortune that came to them. Burleigh didn’t know many women like that, but he
knew she was like that.
When his hunger was satisfied, he did, of course, have to tell them about Mrs. Marshall, and he
noticed what a friendly interest the boys took in the matter.
Rudolph, the oldest one (he was still living at home then), said: “The last time I was over there, she
was lifting them big heavy milk-cans, and I knew she oughtn’t to be doing it.”
“Yes, Rudolph told me about that when he come home, and I said it wasn’t right,” Mary put in
warmly. “It was all right for me to do them things up to the last, for I was terrible strong, but that
woman’s weakly. And do you think she’ll be able to nurse it, Ed?” She sometimes forgot to give him
3
the title she was so proud of. “And to think of your being up all night and then not able to get a decent
breakfast! I don’t know what’s the matter with such people.”
“Why, Mother,” said one of the boys, “if Doctor Ed had got breakfast there, we wouldn’t have him
here. So you ought to be glad.”
“He knows I’m glad to have him, John, any time. But I’m sorry for that poor woman, how bad she’ll
feel the Doctor had to go away in the cold without his breakfast.”
“I wish I’d been in practice when these were getting born.” The doctor looked down the row of closeclipped heads. “I missed some good breakfasts by not being.”
The boys began to laugh at their mother because she flushed so red, but she stood her ground and
threw up her head. “I don’t care, you wouldn’t have got away from this house without breakfast. No
doctor ever did. I’d have had something ready fixed that Anton could warm up for you.”
The boys laughed harder than ever, and exclaimed at her: “I’ll bet you would!” “She would, that!”
“Father, did you get breakfast for the doctor when we were born?”
“Yes, and he used to bring me my breakfast, too, mighty nice. I was always awful hungry!” Mary
admitted with a guilty laugh.
While the boys were getting the Doctor’s horse, he went to the window to examine the house plants.
“What do you do to your geraniums to keep them blooming all winter, Mary? I never pass this house
that from the road I don’t see your windows full of flowers.”
She snapped off a dark red one, and a ruffled new green leaf, and put them in his buttonhole. “There,
that looks better. You look too solemn for a young man, Ed. Why don’t you git married? I’m worried
about you. Settin’ at breakfast, I looked at you real hard, and I seen you’ve got some grey hairs
already.”
“Oh, yes! They’re coming. Maybe they’d come faster if I married.”
“Don’t talk so. You’ll ruin your health eating at the hotel. I could send your wife a nice loaf of nut
bread, if you only had one. I don’t like to see a young man getting grey. I’ll tell you something, Ed;
you make some strong black tea and keep it handy in a bowl, and every morning just brush it into
your hair, an’ it’ll keep the grey from showin’ much. That’s the way I do!”
Sometimes the Doctor heard the gossipers in the drug-store wondering why Rosicky didn’t get on
faster. He was industrious, and so were his boys, but they were rather free and easy, weren’t pushers,
and they didn’t always show good judgment. They were comfortable, they were out of debt, but they
didn’t get much ahead. Maybe, Doctor Burleigh reflected, people as generous and warm-hearted and
affectionate as the Rosickys never got ahead much; maybe you couldn’t enjoy your life and put it into
the bank, too.
4
II
When Rosicky left Doctor Burleigh’s office he went into the farm-implement store to light his pipe
and put on his glasses and read over the list Mary had given him. Then he went into the general
merchandise place next door and stood about until the pretty girl with the plucked eyebrows, who
always waited on him, was free. Those eyebrows, two thin India-ink strokes, amused him, because he
remembered how they used to be. Rosicky always prolonged his shopping by a little joking; the girl
knew the old fellow admired her, and she liked to chaff with him.
“Seems to me about every other week you buy ticking, Mr. Rosicky, and always the best quality,” she
remarked as she measured off the heavy bolt with red stripes.
“You see, my wife is always makin’ goose-fedder pillows, an’ de thin stuff don’t hold in dem little
down-fedders.”
“You must have lots of pillows at your house.”
“Sure. She makes quilts of dem, too. We sleeps easy. Now she’s makin’ a fedder quilt for my son’s
wife. You know Polly, that married my Rudolph. How much my bill, Miss Pearl?”
“Eight eighty-five.”
“Chust make it nine, and put in some candy fur de women.”
“As usual. I never did see a man buy so much candy for his wife. First thing you know, she’ll be
getting too fat.”
“I’d like dat. I ain’t much fur all dem slim women like what de style is now.”
“That’s one for me, I suppose, Mr. Bohunk!” Pearl sniffed and elevated her India-ink strokes.
When Rosicky went out to his wagon, it was beginning to snow,–the first snow of the season, and he
was glad to see it. He rattled out of town and along the highway through a wonderfully rich stretch of
country, the finest farms in the county. He admired this High Prairie, as it was called, and always
liked to drive through it. His own place lay in a rougher territory, where there was some clay in the
soil and it was not so productive. When he bought his land, he hadn’t the money to buy on High
Prairie; so he told his boys, when they grumbled, that if their land hadn’t some clay in it, they
wouldn’t own it at all. All the same, he enjoyed looking at these fine farms, as he enjoyed looking at a
prize bull.
After he had gone eight miles, he came to the graveyard, which lay just at the edge of his own hayland. There he stopped his horses and sat still on his wagon seat, looking about at the snowfall. Over
yonder on the hill he could see his own house, crouching low, with the clump of orchard behind and
the windmill before, and all down the gentle hill-slope the rows of pale gold cornstalks stood out
against the white field. The snow was falling over the cornfield and the pasture and the hay-land,
steadily, with very little wind,–a nice dry snow. The graveyard had only a light wire fence about it
5
and was all overgrown with long red grass. The fine snow, settling into this red grass and upon the
few little evergreens and the headstones, looked very pretty.
It was a nice graveyard, Rosicky reflected, sort of snug and homelike, not cramped or mournful,–a
big sweep all round it. A man could lie down in the long grass and see the complete arch of the sky
over him, hear the wagons go by; in summer the mowing-machine rattled right up to the wire fence.
And it was so near home. Over there across the cornstalks his own roof and windmill looked so good
to him that he promised himself to mind the Doctor and take care of himself. He was awful fond of
his place, he admitted. He wasn’t anxious to leave it. And it was a comfort to think that he would
never have to go farther than the edge of his own hayfield. The snow, falling over his barnyard and
the graveyard, seemed to draw things together like. And they were all old neighbours in the
graveyard, most of them friends; there was nothing to feel awkward or embarrassed about.
Embarrassment was the most disagreeable feeling Rosicky knew. He didn’t often have it,–only with
certain people whom he didn’t understand at all.
Well, it was a nice snowstorm; a fine sight to see the snow falling so quietly and graciously over so
much open country. On his cap and shoulders, on the horses’ backs and manes, light, delicate,
mysterious it fell; and with it a dry cool fragrance was released into the air. It meant rest for
vegetation and men and beasts, for the ground itself; a season of long nights for sleep, leisurely
breakfasts, peace by the fire. This and much more went through Rosicky’s mind, but he merely told
himself that winter was coming, clucked to his horses, and drove on.
When he reached home, John, the youngest boy, ran out to put away his team for him, and he met
Mary coming up from the outside cellar with her apron full of carrots. They went into the house
together. On the table, covered with oilcloth figured with clusters of blue grapes, a place was set, and
he smelled hot coffee-cake of some kind. Anton never lun …
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