‘A Golden Slipper’ by Willa Cather

A Golden Slipper by Willa Cather, 1917

The magic trick:

Setting up a conflict in which one side quietly longs to agree with the other point of view

It’s Willa Cather Week on the magic tricks site.

“A Gold Slipper” pits two dramatically different approaches to life against one another. Through a series of coincidences, those sides find themselves seated next to each other on a train, giving Cather the opportunity to use their conversation as the battleground for their opposing points of view. The artist vs. the conservative business man.

The artist lays out her view convincingly and with tremendous clarity. What makes the story truly interesting, though, is the way you can see the businessman never truly opposes the artist. He does so on principle, but we get several indications throughout that he is attracted to both the artist and her way of life.

The titular slipper – and the story’s epilogue – show that neatly. And that’s quite a trick on Cather’s part.

The selection:

He had not, he admitted to himself, been so much bored as he pretended. The minx herself was well enough, but it was absurd in his fellow-townsmen to look owlish and uplifted about her. He had no rooted dislike for pretty women; he even didn’t deny that gay girls had their place in the world, but they ought to be kept in their place. He was born a Presbyterian, just as he was born a McKann. He sat in his pew in the First Church every Sunday, and he never missed a presbytery meeting when he was in town. His religion was not very spiritual, certainly, but it was substantial and concrete, made up of good, hard convictions and opinions. It had something to do with citizenship, with whom one ought to marry, with the coal business, in which his own name was powerful, with the Republican party, and with all majorities and established precedents. He was hostile to fads, to enthusiasms, to individualism, to all changes except in mining machinery and in methods of transportation.


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