Neighbor Rosicky Summary

Willa Cather

Neighbor Rosicky

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Neighbor Rosicky Summary

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“Neighbor Rosicky” was written in 1928, and is considered one of Willa Cather’s most well-known short stories. The story was later collected in a volume called Obscure Destinies. As Cather is most known for her novels, including My Antonia and O Pioneers!, this story’s success helped foment Cather as a well-versed writer with a keen eye for the immigrant experience.

The story’s main character is Anton Rosicky, a sixty-five-year-old immigrant from Bohemia who learns from Dr. Ed Burleigh that he has a bad heart. Burleigh recommends that Rosicky give up heavy chores. In this beginning segment, the reader learns through the doctor’s own recollections that Rosicky is a husband with six children and an American daughter-in-law. Burleigh remembers dining at Rosicky’s place once, and how kindhearted the man was, and still is. He muses about the fate of people like Rosicky, how though it seems like they never get ahead in life, they may actually lead more fulfilled lives than those who do “get ahead.”

The narrative then follows Rosicky’s thoughts and actions as he reflects on the meaning of life itself, from his old home in Bohemia to the new one he has made on the Nebraska prairie. In the second section, Rosicky visits a graveyard while it is snowing outside, and muses on how the winter weather means that the animals, fields and farmers can all rest. He finally returns home and admits to his wife that he has received a dire prognosis. His wife then recalls that Rosicky has always been kind to her, and that the two get along so well because they believe in the same values. An anecdotal story, about how the couple refused to give their cream to a creamery because they wanted the cream to feed their own children instead of someone else’s, rounds out the section.

Rosicky takes the doctor’s advice and relinquishes his heavier chores to his sons. In the third section, the reader finds him remembering earlier days when he arrived in New York City at the age of twenty. Rosicky managed to secure a job at a tailor’s shop, but was not able to save money because he either gave it away or spent it on others. He also felt extremely restless, and it was not until the Fourth of July that he realized he was restless on account of the city itself. In the city, he had no connection to the earth. Rosicky determines to head West, and leaves New York for Nebraska when he turns thirty-five.

In the next section, the reader learns that one of Rosicky’s sons, Rudolph, rents a farm nearby. Rosicky is worried about Rudolph because he recently married Polly, an American woman who is used to living in the city and who now finds it difficult living on a farm. Rosicky is worried that, due to Polly’s unhappiness, his son will move to the city with Polly and secure a job, thereby abandoning his farm life in favor of the city. Rosicky decides to give his son the family car so that he can take Polly into town that very evening.

The next section finds the family together on Christmas Eve. Rosicky recounts how he was always hungry back in London, while Rudolph worries that if the winter is too harsh, the crops will not survive. It is then revealed that, one summer, the weather was indeed so bad that the family lost its crop. Instead of getting depressed, Rosicky had a picnic in the orchard. Rosicky then recalls a particularly harrowing time while in London, when he devoured half of a cooked goose that his landlady had hidden on his side of the room. When he finally realized what he had done, he ran out into the streets intent on replacing the goose. He finally met some well-to-do Czechs who gave him the money to replace the goose. It was a little after this event that Rosicky left for New York. Polly, who is genuinely moved by the stories she has heard, invites the family to their farm for New Year’s dinner.

In the last section, Rosicky muses about his children’s happiness. When spring arrives, he goes to work in Rudolph’s alfalfa fields, but the hard work is too much for him. He has another heart attack, and Polly, who calls him father for the first time in the story, rushes to his side. Rosicky then asks Polly if she is pregnant. Polly, who feels that no one has loved her as genuinely as Rosicky, assists Rudolph in taking Rosicky home, where he dies the next day. The story ends when Dr. Burleigh is driving by the graveyard where Rosicky is buried and thinks about the kindness of his neighbor, how fitting his life in the country had been and how he is right where he always wanted to be, in the open country.

Cather’s story addresses the pain of loss. Yet the story digs deeper to reveal the inevitability of death. As such, Rosicky’s life of kindness and appreciation for the land is symbolic of how one should approach life and the inevitability of endings. Like Rosicky losing his crops one summer, loss is a part of life. Instead of sinking into despair, Rosicky has a picnic. This single act symbolizes how one’s actions are important in determining how one views life. Some view it as a journey to amass unnecessary items, and Cather’s story critiques this materialism as well, so rampant as it was in the 1920s. Others, like Rosicky and those “neighbors” he touched, are able to see how kindness and an appreciation for the earth holds just as many rewards as any city or shimmering trinket.