Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop and mystical experiences of New Mexico

How do you read the ending of Death Comes for the Archbishop? How does Cather’s style and the mood support your reading?

Cather uses stories throughout the novel to support Latour’s story and represent a tradition of folklore. In the end, Latour is not remembered for the church but rather for these stories that make up his essence.  One can argue that even Western civilization with all of its technology and power cannot stand up to the power of stories. Stories and how one is remembered through stories ends up being the essence of you. Sometimes it’s the whole truth, sometimes it’s what somebody wants the truth to be, and occasionally it’s just mostly true (probably the best thing in the long run). Unlike the movements of the 60s and 70s, the theme of this novel is acceptance rather than peace or love. Peace and love are ten steps ahead of acceptance. And if we don’t begin with acceptance and, first, make bigotry and hate unacceptable, we can never reach peace and love.

Does the novel suggest a mystical experience of New Mexico? Explain.

The reader is introduced to New Mexico through Latour. As a religious person, he is very open to mystical happenings in the world around him. As a result, his descriptions are full of mystery and awe. I’m not sure whether other religious figures would be as accepting but Latour is and as a result represents almost a perfect white man. If only all newcomers were like him. The novel also explores a very interesting coming together between organized religion and spirituality. Spirituality is typically considered very un-Christian but in the novel it is as if Cather is saying that there is no one superior approach. Her theme is acceptance and she embraces many different ways of doing things. (I would argue that this concept by itself makes her a heretic).

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Religion and Landscape in Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

In Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, Father Latour is a man of God who is devoted to both his church and its people. He is a meticulous man who takes his job very seriously. As an outsider to New Mexico, his point of view is easy for the reader to relate to. Furthermore, it plays a major role in creating the landscape and setting of the novel. Latour always tries to do the right and honest thing and is focused entirely on improving his own understanding of the people and land in order to improve his diocese. In using this character, Cather was trying to depict a man that the reader can easily empathize with. However, it appears to me that Latour is actually much harder to empathize with as a result. If this is all that the character is then his perfection makes Latour almost perfect. In other words, Latour is at a pinnacle of his goodness and I wonder where there is to go from there.

Cather spends a lot of time on describing the beauty of the landscape. But she not only conveys an appreciation for the land, she also conveys an appreciation for the difficulty in surviving in the vastness. Furthermore, Cather also depicts New Mexico with a kind of mystery or magic. Sometimes it feels like home and other times it feels like Mars.

It seems to me that the land is almost the primary protagonist in the story and Latour is only used as a lens that allows Cather to build a relationship between the reader and the land. Sometimes the land is described as peaceful and quiet and other times it is described as brutal and unforgiving. This is something that people who live there are constantly engaged with and as a result the land itself is an important character in the story.