‘On The Divide’ by Willa Cather

On The Divide by Willa Cather, 1896

The magic trick:

Setting up a foundation conflict that influences how we see a later conflict

Cather establishes the setting in the early going here. It’s adversarial too. This is definitely a man-vs.-nature conflict. The story then morphs into a fairly terrifying man-vs-(wo)man conflict. But it does so with that foundation of man-vs.-nature always present. One conflict influences the other.

And that’s quite a trick on Cather’s part.

The selection:

Canute Canuteson was as mad as any of them, but his madness did not take the form of suicide or religion but of alcohol. He had always taken liquor when he wanted it, as all Norwegians do, but after his first year of solitary life he settled down to it steadily. He exhausted whisky after a while, and went to alcohol, because its effects were speedier and surer. He was a big man with a terrible amount of resistant force, and it took a great deal of alcohol even to move him. After nine years of drinking, the quantities he could take would seem fabulous to an ordinary drinking man. He never let it interfere with his work, he generally drank at night and on Sundays.


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