The Professor's House: The Life of Willa Cather as Compared to the Life of Godfrey St.
These are words that Willa Cather lived by. In the novel, The Professor's House, Cather's life is directly parallel to the life of the main character, Professor Godfrey St. Peter. Through St. Peter, the reader is able to observe the struggles as well as triumphs that occurred at that point in Willa Cather's life. Her struggle with materialism versus idealism, discovery of religion, and her own mid-life crisis are all shown through the character of Godfrey St. Peter.
In 1922, Cather became " increasingly distressed with the growing mechanization and mass-produced quality of American society" (Norton). This was the time her writing took a new direction and became more concerned with finding alternative values to the materialistic life she increasingly felt around her. This is shown through St. Peter's character in many instances. St. Peter was extremely idealistic and generally avoided anything that even remotely seemed materialistic. In Book 3 of The Professor's House, St. Peter reflects on Tom Outland's untimely death. He .
describes how the only way to remain idealistic in today's society is to die. "A hand like that, had he lived, must have been put to other uses, His fellow scientists, his wife, the town and State, would have required many duties of it .he had escaped all that. He had made something new in the world-and the rewards, the meaningless conventional gestures, he had left to others" (237). St. Peter believes that Tom was only able to retain his idealism through his death, leaving all the materialistic matters behind for others to handle.
One of the more subtle ways that St. Peter demonstrates his idealism is through his new house. "He couldn't make himself believe that he was ever going to live in the new house again. He didn't belong there" (247). St. Peter did not want to succumb to the materialism that he was increasingly seeing in his family.