The Affair at Grover Station and The Sculptors Funeral by

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					“The Affair at Grover Station“ and “The Sculptor´s Funeral”
     by Willa Cather analysed on the depiction of death
        -Literal murder and murder in the figurative sense-

              By Sabrina Hummel and Kristin Ahlborg

            Course: The Small Town in American Fiction
                     Lecturer: Prof. Dr. Kersten
                Date of submission : June 24, 2003
                                                                          Hummel/ Ahlborg i


Thesis statement: Whereas O´Toole in “The Affair at Grover Station” has been killed literally
                  by Freymark, in “The Sculptor´s Funeral” Merrick has been killed in a
                  figurative sense by accusations, inability of understanding and ignorance of
                  the Small Town people.

   I)      Introduction: Different kinds of murder

   II)     The short stories analysed on features of crime fiction
           A) The setting
           B) The victim
           C) The culprit
           D) The motive
           E) The solution

   III)    Conclusion: Why can one say that the Small Town people killed Merrick in a
                       figurative sense?
                                                                                      Hummel/ Ahlborg 1

Students: S. Hummel/ K.Ahlborg

Course: The Small Town in American Fiction

Lecturer: Prof. Dr. Kersten

Date of submission : June 24, 2003

“The Affair at Grover Station” and “The Sculptor´s Funeral” by Willa Cather analysed
                               on the depiction of death
                   -Literal murder and murder in the figurative sense-

        Introduction: Different kinds of murder

        In “The Affair at Grover Station” Lawrence O´Toole had been killed. Harvey Merrick,

in “The Sculptor´s Funeral” had also been killed in a certain way –although he was not

physically murdered by anyone. On the assumption that death in both of the short story plays

a key role –in form of the themes of murder and funeral- this essay will focus on the subject

of death and therefore concentrate on features of crime fiction concerning the story of “The

Affair at Grover Station” (later also referred to as TAAGS) directly and that of “The

Sculptor´s Funeral” (later also referred to as TSF) in a figurative sense.

        Analysis: The short stories analysed on features of crime fiction
        At first we have to ask ourselves: Which elements do belong to the typical

construction of a work of crime fiction?1 For reasons of space we will concentrate on the

central features setting, victim, culprit, motive and, of course the arrangement of the story´s

solution (which corresponds to the unmasking of the culprit in crime fiction) by the author.

The setting in both stories is described similarly. The reader is confronted with the image of

Small Towns of winter and, most of the time, of night. In “The Sculptor´s Funeral” the Small

Town is described the following way:

The knowlegde about features of crime fiction results from private interest in the topic and contains a lot of
information covering a large amount of primary literature (above all crime novels) and secundary sources,
among others by Nusser, Peter, “Der Kriminalroman” and Leonhard, Ulrike, “Mord ist ihr Beruf: Eine
Geschichte des Kriminalromans” (compare both at which is why the supply of a complete list
of literature is not possible in this case.
                                                                             Hummel/ Ahlborg 2

       The lamps in the still village were shining from under the low,

       snowburdened roofs; and beyond, on every side, the plains reached

       out into emptiness, peaceful and wide as the soft sky itself, and

       wrapped in a tangible, white silence (Cather, TSF; 6).

whereas in “The Affair at Grover Station” the reader gets to know the Small Town like this:

“It had snowed all night long, and the storm had developed into a blizzard.” (Cather, TAAGS,

6) and “The snow had let up by that time, and the stars were beginning to glitter cold and

bright through the hurrying clouds.” (Cather, TAAGS, 7).

In both of the stories the railway station is an important part of the setting but nevertheless we

have to distinguish between its function and meaning in each of the stories: In “The Affair at

Grover Station” as well as in “The Sculptor´s Funeral” the station is the starting point of the

plot and connects the different parts of it. But whereas in “The Sculptor´s Funeral” the

railway station seems to symbolize the borderline between the dead person´s different lives

(the forced one and chosen one), in “The Affair at Grover Station” it represents home for the

victim and is the scene of the crime as well -as the scene of crime in the other story we can

obviously state Sand City. Furthermore, as we think, the railway station in general represents

a place to escape and again, connected to “The Affair at Grover Station”, the opportunity for

the culprit to escape. But who is the culprit? Before being able to answer this question we will

turn to the victim at first for reasons of building a relation between victim and murderer which

later will justify the description of the motive which in a lot of works of crime fiction results

from this victim-culprit relation.

Harvey Merrick left Sand City to work as a sculpturer in a place the reader does not get to

know. But why did Merrick leave Sand City? Obviously he left because the people of the

Small Town never respected him and his work. Jim Laird talked about this disrespect in this

                                                                              Hummel/ Ahlborg 3

       There was only one boy ever raised in this borderland between

       ruffianism and civilization who didn´t come to grief, and you hated

       Harvey Merrick more for winning out than you hated all the other

       boys who got under the wheels.(Cather, TSF, 8).

Probably they were not able to respect Merrick because of the kind of work he did. He did

not seem to be able to identify himself with Sand City as well which was probably one reason

why he left. But he probably also escaped his mother who is described as follows: “The old

woman is a fury…She made Harvey´s life a hell for him…”(Cather, TSF, 5) His mother´s

behaviour influenced Merricks latter life intensively as one can see in Laird´s statement: “I

never could see how he kept himself so sweet.” (Cather, TSF, 5) and through what the reader

gets to know from Merrick´s former pupil´s thoughts: “Oh, he comprended well enough now

the quiet bitterness of the smile that he had seen so often on his master´s lips” (Cather, TSF,

5). In contrast to Merrick who is an outcast, O´Toole in “The Affair at Grover Station” until

his death is part of the Small Town. He is respected and even loved by the townspeople

especially by Miss Masterson. O´Toole is loved so much that his relationship to Miss

Masterson finally serves as a motive to kill him. This is vividly shown when the reader gets to

know that O´Toole is preferred by Miss Masterson rather than Feymark: “She [Miss

Masterson, S.H./K.A.] replied that she had made an arrangement to go to the dance with Mr.

Freymark, but added laughingly that no other arrangement held when Larry could come.”

(Cather, TAAGS, 2).

In contrast to “The Sculptor´s Funeral” -in which figuratively speaking Merrick, the victim,

is an outsider and the Small Town people as culprits are not- in “The Affair at Grover Station”

Freymark, the murderer, becomes an outsider. But nevertheless in both of the stories the

murderer becomes more interesting for the reader than the victim does because it is him who

is able to largely influence his victim´s life and even destroy it to an amount that results in an

effect which is comparable to that of being killed literally.
                                                                            Hummel/ Ahlborg 4

On first view in “The Affair at Grover Station” Freymark is described as “…dressed in

excellent taste…always accommodating, with the most polished manners and an address

extravagantly deferential.” (Cather, TAAGS, 3 ). As the story goes on and the reader already

guesses that Freymark is likely to be the murderer (though on no other suspect the attention is

raised) the tone becomes much more rough: “…it was the breaking out of the barbarian blood

through his mask of European civilization” (Cather, TAAGS, 5).

The culprits of “The Sculptor´s Funeral” are not that easy to detect. They are finally

unmasked by the speech of Jim Laird: “ … we wanted you all to be proud of us some

day…and I found you didn´t in the last want me to be a great man.” (Cather, TSF, 8). At the

beginning of “The Sculptor´s Funeral” the reader still gets the view of the caring family (the

Merricks) but even the members of his family (and maybe them first of all) are among those

who killed Merrick in a figurative sense. Merrick´s mother´s mourning seems just a bit too

exuberant to be real: “…and a tall, corpulent woman rushed out bareheaded into the snow and

flung herself upon the coffin, shrieking; ´My boy, my boy! And this is how you´ve come

home to me!” (Cather, TSF, 3 ). This behaviour simply does not fit to the descriptions of the

behaviour she had towards Merrick when he still was a child. Merrick´s father on the other

hand left him alone when he needed him most because they obviously lived in two different

worlds which one can see in the following statement of Merrick´s father: “He brushed the hair

back gently from his son´s forehead. ´He was a good boy, Jim; … He was ez gentle ez a child

and the kindest of ´em all --only we didn´t none of us ever onderstand him.´”(Cather, TSF, 4).

Merrick´s sister was probably the only one who does not even try to hide that she does not

seem to have any stronger emotions concerning her brother´s death as one can easily assume

in this passage:

       …[Merrick´s sister, S.H./ K.A.] caught Mrs. Merrick by the

       shoulders, crying sharply: ´Come, come, Mother; you mustn´t

       go on like this!´ Her tone changed to one of obsequious solemnity
                                                                              Hummel/ Ahlborg 5

       as she turned to the banker: ´The parlor is ready, Mr. Phelps.´ (Cather, TSF, 3).

Love as the motive for killing O´Toole seems to be clear. But what was the motive of the

Small Town people, as we claim, to kill Merrick in a figurative sense? We think that the

motive of this “murder” becomes clear by looking at the arrangements of the solution of “The

Sculptor´s Funeral”. In contrast to “The Affair at Grover Station” in which the reader gets to

know the whole process of investigating the details of the crime via the narrator in “The

Sculptor´s Funeral” the motive is revealed through the means of Jim Laird´s speech in which

he accuses the townspeople (and himself ): “Why is it that reputable young men are as scarce

as millionaires in Sand City? …I´ll tell you why. Because you drummed nothing but money

and knavery into their ears from the time they wore knickerbockers;…” (Cather, TSF, p.8)

And then he sais something that, as we think, shows that the townspeople will never change:

“…and yet you´ll stand up and throw mud at Harvey Merrick, whose soul you couldn´t dirty

and whose hands you couldn´t tie.” (Cather, TSF, 9) which one can also see in the following

passage from which we can conclude that Laird could not change life in Sand City as well,

probably mainly because he was and stayed part of it himself: “Next day Jim Laird was drunk

and unable to attend the funeral services.” (Cather, TSF, 9).

       Conclusion: Why can one say that the Small Town people killed Merrick in a

       figurative sense?

Concluding in a crime fiction-like manner we state that the culprits, the Small Town people of

Sand City killed Merrick, the victim in a figurative sense because of the following motives:

They wanted to make him one of them because they could not accept him as he was and

therefore interfered into his life. If they did not interfere they were not able to help him

anyway because they could not understand what he aimed at. But the perhaps most striking

aspect was that they preferred to have an unsatisfied, unsuccessful member in their society

than someone who was different from them. That is what killed Merrick.
                                                                           Hummel/ Ahlborg 6


Cather, Willa, “The Affair at Grover Station” (1900). Available on the Internet at: (no entry about last revision


Cather, Willa, “The Sculptor´s Funeral” , The Troll Garden (1905). Available on Internet at: (No entry about

last revision found)

Marggraf Turley, Writing Essays: A guide for students in English and the humanities

(London: Routlegde, 2000), 100-102

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