The recent "greening" of Willa Cather Scholarship has initiated new conversations about Cather's use of and dependence on landscape in her fiction. Scholars have frequently noted Cather's reliance on landscape imagery, but this thesis suggests parallels between Cather's and Henry David Thoreau's use of awakening imagery and examines how such parallels work in Cather's environmental discussion of wilderness and environmental communities. There is little direct evidence linking the development of Cather to Thoreau, although their similar use of awakening imagery suggests they comment on similar environmental discussions through their writing, indicating that Cather deserves further attention as a nature writer. Because Thoreau is often identified as the father of modern nature writing, recognizing similarities between Cather and Thoreau further solidifies Cather's place within the canon of American nature writing. This thesis examines how Cather's awakening imagery in The Song of the Lark is similar to Thoreau's ideas of awakening in Walden. The comparison elucidates Cather's dependence on landscape that evolves into a deeper ecological discussion in My Ántonia where Cather's characters wrestle with finding a balance between modern industry and land preservation, an issue Thoreau also battled in his time. Preservation becomes an important element in Cather's fiction and is explored in this thesis through concepts of wilderness. Finally, I will address how Death Comes for the Archbishop uses awakening imagery and concepts of wilderness to promote the creation of balanced environmental communities. Cather's ability to employ elements of nature writing in Archbishop makes it her strongest holistic showing as a nature writer. Reading Cather as a nature writer who recognized similar environmental issues as Thoreau forces critics to broaden the canon of American nature writing. Such a reading also expands previous ideas of the form and style of traditional nature writing. Recognizing Cather's dependence on landscape gives nature a voice among other social issues Cather addresses in her writing, namely gender, race, and social status. Identifying Cather as an American nature writer issues a greater call to critics and scholars to re-evaluate other texts within and without of the canon for their ecological significance. Focusing on consistent ecological issues and patterns in American literature will broaden our understanding of the nation's evolving ecological imagination.



College and Department

Humanities; English



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Henry David Thoreau, Willa Cather, ecocriticism, nature writing