Materialism Murders Nowadays, the new trend is the have the most. People are constantly Judging each other on how much they have or how new it is. Society does not look down upon materialism, but rather celebrates it. But this was not yet the case in the 1920s. During this time period, there was a move toward mass production but the idea was not accepted by all. Many people detested the idea, one of these people being Willa Cather, who valued simplicity and intelligence over money and items.
This tug-of-war between old values such as art and history, and the new values of technology and aterial wealth, is a theme Willa Cather addresses in her book The Professor’s House. The novel is centralized around the St. Peter family: husband and wife, Godfrey and Lillian, and their daughters, Rosamond Marcellus and Kathleen McGregor. One day in the girl’s childhood, a man named Tom Outland comes from New Mexico and basically lives with the St. Peter’s, changing their life forever.
Eventually, Outland becomes engaged to Rosie and revolutionizes the aircraft, Just before he is killed in combat during World War l. But, Outland’s invention is patented and makes a good deal of money, all of which is willed to Rosamond. In The Professor’s House, Cather uses the ruined relationship between sisters Rosamond Marcellus and Kathleen McGregor and the characters of professor Godfrey St. Peter and Tom Outland to criticize materialism by showing the negative and evil effects of money, such as jealousy and spite, and the content and importance of living life simply.
The St. Peter family, which was a functional and loving family, was ruined when all of Tom Outland’s money was willed to Rosamond, creating a monetary division and Jealousy between the once close Rosamond and Kathleen. While venting to her father about he hate seething from Rosie, Kathleen remarks that Rosamond has “entirely changed… and all this money [has] ruined her” (Cather 71). The newly acquired money has allowed Rosie to live an extravagant life, in turn making her haughty and condescending.
Now that her character has changed, Rosie ruined the relationship between her and her sister, something Cather says is the common result of materialism. As St. Peter was walking home through the park one night, he had a terrifying image of “the handsome face of his older daughter, surrounded by violet- dappled fur, with a cruel upper lip and scornful half-closed eyes… and Kathleen… , her white cheeks actually becoming green under her swollen eyes” (Cather 74). The color imagery of purple and green presented by Cather are used to represent the growing materialism and its negative effects.
Rosamond’s face is spiteful and contemptuous, surrounded by the dark wealth that she has been given; and Kathleen’s innocent face has become green with the enw caused by her sister. Cather uses the example of the ruined relationship between Kathleen and Rosamond to show her disapproval of the growing importance of materialism. Professor St. Peter is constantly battling with materialism: his family builds a new ouse, his daughter inherits a giant sum of money, and his wife always wants youth and materials; yet, he yearns for a simpler and more natural way of living.
During the professor’s trips to work at the old house, he would examine the workspace and wonder why he didn’t replace certain things, only to come to the conclusion that “he was by no means an ascetic” (Cather 17). St. Peter does not wish for the newest things, and yet is still content with how he lives. In portraying the professor this way, Cather argues that material items do not make a person happy. After coming face to face with his depression, St. Peter realizes that he had never “learned to live without delight… [but] he would have to,” and that “life [would be] possible, maybe even pleasant” (Cather 257).
The professor had always lived a life full of enjoyment, mostly from material items, but now he realizes that he must and can go on without those “essentials. ” This is Cather saying that most people don’t understand the importance of living without possessing everything. Through the professor’s plain yet happy life, Cather proves that materialism is an evil that is not needed for contentedness. Embodying ideals almost opposite from materialism, Tom Outland lives simpler nd earns what he deserves based on what he can do, a motto that allows him to give and receive the most.
After kicking out his best friend Rodney Blake for betraying him, Outland returns to the mesa alone, and awakes each morning feeling like he “had found everything, instead of having lost everything” (Cather 226). Out alone in the wilderness, Tom is able to find peace within himself. Although he has no physical materials, he has gained everything spiritually and mentally, which Cather shows can be the most rewarding. When Tom was faced with a dilemma over selling artifacts, he ealized that “there was never any question of money with [him], where this mesa and its people were concerned” (Cather 220).
Outland valued beauty, integrity, and leaving something to its rightful owner over money. Through these character traits, Cather voices her approval of virtues and her disapproval of materialism. Using the character of Tom Outland, Cather shows the importance of living honest and simple as a way to gain from life. Willa Cather believed that materialism was the root of all evil, and that by following that path, human themselves will become evil as well. She used her haracters to portray a larger message: that the world is not one that appreciates a person’s ideals.
But that doesn’t necessarily matter so long as the ideals allow the escape from human superficiality. By living simply, that idea of inner peace can be achieved. Many people keep running around, being busy, doing everything at once, because they believe that is the only way to get things done. But Cather says the contrary. She says that once a person values thought and simplicity of the mind, happiness can be achieved. Work Cited Cather, Willa. The Professor’s House. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.