Tag Archives: Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop Discussion Questions

We are meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, January 20, 2010) night at 7 p.m. in the upstairs Harnish meeting room. Come ready to talk!

It seems Death Comes for the Archbishop tends to be a “love it” or “hate it” book for readers. I was kind of in between but a second read got me to the “love it” stage. I think it has so much detail in it that it’s hard to get it all at once, especially if one is waiting for a plot as most novels have. So let’s call it a “narrative,” as Willa Cather preferred, rather than a novel.

Were you a “love it” or “hate it” reader?

Regardless of what you thought, here are some questions we can keep in mind as we meet tomorrow. Note that these of course contain spoilers. I didn’t like most of the questions I found online, so most of these are mine. I did, however, get some inspiration from Cliff’s Note’s essay questions page.

In General

Cather was not a Catholic. Why do you think she wrote about two Catholic priests? Is this a religious book?

Do you think Cather was more sympathetic to the Indians’ way of blending with the natural landscape of the Southwest or Latour’s accomplishments to build the diocese?

Father Latour and Father Vaillant: How are they similar and different in how they approach their work? Who do you believe is the better man? Who is the better priest? Is there a difference?

The landscape: What role does the landscape play? How is it a character?

Cather claims she purposely did not play up incidents for all there was in them. What are some situations that she understated?

The Specifics

Prologue: At Rome

What do we learn about the New Mexico diocese in this passage?

Why does Father Ferrand worry at the end of the passage?

Book One: The Vicar Apostolic

What do we learn about Father Latour from this section, especially the story of the Cruciform Tree?

Book Two: Missionary Journeys

We meet Father Valliant for the first time with the story of the in section one, The White Mules. What do we learn about him from that story? How does his personality differ from Father Latour’s in the previous section?

In Section 2, The Lonely Road to Mora, we meet Buck Scales. How is he contrasted with the New Mexico setting?

Book Three: The Mass at Acoma

What was different about the community of Acoma?

Why did Cather include the story of Friar Baltazar (section 4 of this book)? What symbolism, if any, does his story possess? Exactly what was his great failure?

Book Four: Snake Root

How does Cather treat the Native American traditions? How does it compare/contrast to the Catholic/Mexican traditions?

Book Five: Padre Martinez

Section 1 is called “The Old Order.” How is Padre Martinez’s “old order” different from Bishop Latour’s “new order”?

How do Padre Martinez and Father Lucero differ?

Book Six: Dona Isabella

Bishop Latour has an ambition: for him what role do the Olivares’ have in this? Why is the story of Antonio Olivares and Dona Isabella included in the novel? How does it compare/contrast to the Bishop’s other excursions/events?

Book Seven: The Great Diocese and Book Eight: Gold Under Pike’s Peak

What differences between Father Valliant and the Bishop do we see when they interact together? Consider both the cathedral plans and the call to go to Pike’s Peak.

Book Nine: Death Comes for the Archbishop

Why are these sections numbered instead of titled, as the other books had been?

How does this section tie the narrative together?

What is the significance of his last dream? How does it reflect his life (at least as contained in this book)?

Next month: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, February 17, 2010. Pick up your copy at the Harnish circulation desk.



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Art of the Southwest

One of the things I love about Death Comes for the Archbishop is Cather’s description of the setting. Here are some artists that captured it.

I enjoy browsing through these artists’ works because I feel it’s captured the southwest that I’ve just met through Cather’s narrative!

Cather herself was inspired by this work, a series of frescoes by Puvis de Chavanne depicting the life of Saint Genevieve  (according to enotes).

Am I missing any artists that you’ve found or thought of?

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Get Your Copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop

The Algonquin Area Public Library, Harnish branch, has copies of Death Comes for the Archbishop at the Circulation Desk just waiting for you to pick up. If you haven’t found a copy for yourself yet, make sure you pick one up.

I have finished the book. It’s a little hard to categorize, which Cather herself says she’s glad about. So don’t categorize it: just read it. It may feel a little slow, as it’s more vignettes rather than a single plot. In the end though, I think it’s beautiful, and I’m looking forward to discussing it on Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 7 p.m.

More thoughts, background, and discussion questions to come in the coming two weeks!

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Recap and Next Year

We had a great discussion about Cry, the Beloved Country last Wednesday night, the 18th.

Our next meeting is as follows:

Book: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
Date and Time: Wednesday, January 20, 2010, 7 p.m.
Place: Harnish Study Room (upstairs)

You’ll notice that this is a change from what it was originally. See the current schedule for next year. We’ve changed all of next year’s meetings to Wednesday nights, rather than Thursday nights. We’ll be meeting upstairs in a study room. Check with the reference desk if you do not know where it is.

This blog will be silent for the next few weeks as I’m taking a bit of a blogging break. After the first of the year, however, I”ll be back with info about the Willa Cather novel to help you in your reading and maybe give you some ideas for our book club discussion!

Happy holidays!

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