Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plow and sunset

On Wednesday, we discussed a few interpretations of Cather's image of the plow silhouette in the setting sun. I indicated that I found it helpful to read the plow as a "bidirectional" emblem. What did you make of this concept of "bidirectionality"? What does that mean? And, I also want to give you an opportunity here to tell me what you think the plow silhouetted in the setting sun conveys, in regard to the novel's narrative, in regard to the settlement of the Plain, to technology, to our treatment of the environment, etc. I will look forward to reading your replies.


  1. I have to confess that I couldn't follow the bulk of what you said about the symbolism about that passage. Don't feel bad; I couldn't follow the bulk of what anyone said about any part of the book, either. The idea of a bidirectional emblem is an interesting one, if only as an added dimension to the familiar symbolism of literary texts. It might be viewed as analogous to the concept of liminality, which in my vague understanding is essentially a point of transition, turmoil, and roughly speaking being astride the fence. In this sense I could see the plough as being such an emblem, sort of. It's difficult for me to wrap my brain around the concept.

    If only going by the criteria of symbolic significance that it has no other place in the narrative--that it is glaringly out of place--one can easily conclude that it is somehow symbolic. The most plausible idea I have is one stolen from Kaylin (if I recall correctly--and apologies for the probable misspelling): that the sun is setting on this part of the characters' lives. Perhaps also the sun is setting on Jim's life within the scope of agriculture as a whole, since this is effectively the last real connection to the land he has for the rest of the story (again, if memory serves). And then I suppose it could be "bidirectional" (or not--still fuzzy on the term) in the sense that it shows Jim abandoning agriculture before Antonia becomes wholly inveigled with it.

  2. I still stand by what I said in class: The plow being illuminated by the setting sun symbolized the end of that part of their life, or the sun setting on the farm part of their life. It was the end for them, and I think they realized that as they watched the moment pass. They all eventually move on to bigger and better things, Jim to school, Lena and Tiny to the big city to own their own business, and Antonia to Denver to get married (though it doesn't work out for her) Had this image been in any part of the book other than at the end of The Hired Girls, I don't think it would have been even remotely as powerful as it was.