« Fading Ad: Amazon Hose & Rubber Company | Main | Quote »

"...to make no noise, to leave no trace..."

The narrator of Willa Cather's My Antonia reflects on his late teenaged years in small-town Black Hawk, Nebraska (which Cather modeled on her home town of Red Cloud):
On starlight nights I used to pace up and down those long, cold streets, scowling at the little, sleeping houses on either side, with their storm-windows and covered back porches. They were flimsy shelters, most of them poorly built of light wood, with spindle porch-posts horribly mutilated by the turning-lathe. Yet for all their frailness, how much jealousy and envy and unhappiness some of them managed to contain! The life that went on in them seemed to me made up of evasions and negations; shifts to save cooking, to save washing and cleaning, devices to propitiate the tongue of gossip. This guarded mode of existence was like living under a tyranny. People's speech, their voices, their very glances, became furtive and repressed. Every individual taste, every natural appetite, was bridled by caution. The people asleep in those houses, I thought, tried to live like the mice in their own kitchens; to make no noise, to leave no trace, to slip over the surface of things in the dark. The growing piles of ashes and cinders in the back yards were the only evidence that the wasteful, consuming process of life went on at all.
Ouch. Even Sinclair Lewis would have been hard-pressed to describe small-town life so darkly.

November 23, 2015 in Books | Permalink


I've read that novel at least thrice, and that passage still seems fresh to me.

Posted by: Paul at Nov 24, 2015 4:27:59 AM

The novel, quite honestly, didn't do much for me. Of the trilogy, I liked O Pioneers! best by far. I'll be sharing my thoughts on the trilogy here soon.

Posted by: Pete at Dec 5, 2015 4:36:52 PM