Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book 1: Chapter 3

Summary

It is Christmas Day. Latour has been busy since his return to Santa Fe nine days previous. His return was marked by a friendly welcome from his diocese due to the work of Father Vaillant, who had endeared himself to the diocese. The Mexican priest who had overseen the parish prior to the arrival of Latour and Vaillant had left Santa Fe to return to Mexico. Vaillant has appropriated the priest's house and has hired carpenters to make the quarters livable.

The priests' house is described as an old adobe house in much need of additional repair. All the corners of the house are rounded in adobe fashion. All the furnishings are handmade.

Latour writes a letter to his brother in France. He relates that he must be a businessman all day, how he will help the Mexicans become good American citizens (it is for their own good), and how Vaillant is cooking dinner. He tells his brother that salads are unheard of in New Mexico, and salad oil was an extravagance even in Ohio. The two men will be happy, though living far from the land of their birth.

The two men sit down to a Christmas dinner of onion soup, bean salad with pork, roast chicken, and dried-plum compote. Latour tells Vaillant of the thousand years of tradition that is represented by his soup. Vaillant laments that there is no salad. He remembers the grape vineyards and gardens he tended in Ohio.

Latour and Vaillant sit down to a Christmas dinner. Father Joseph Vaillant is introduced as a physically unattractive man. Cather states that "the Lord had made few uglier men." He is short and thin, and is bow-legged from horseback riding. His hair is the color of dried hay, but he was formerly tow-colored, which is why his Seminary nickname was "Blanchet" ("Whitey").

Despite his appearance, Father Joseph is resourceful and energetic. He has paved the way for Latour's ministry in Santa Fe because the population there was won over by Joseph through his persistence and the "driving power of a dozen men in his poorly-built body."

Vaillant remarks that he had become too comfortable in Ohio, but he begs Latour to promise him that Latour won't send him farther. Latour remarks that he doesn't know how far the diocese extends, and that he'll ask Kit Carson to explain it to him. He assures Vaillant that there is plenty of work to accomplish in Santa Fe.

The two men hear horses galloping and gunshots outside. Latour is alarmed but is reassured by Vaillant that it is customary for cowboys to get the Pueblo Indians drunk on holidays. In their intoxicated states, they go to the fort to serenade the soldiers.

Analysis

Cather depicts the house as quaint and charming. She makes a point of describing the house's furnishings as handmade, granting the pieces an "irregular and intimate quality." From this, the reader may infer that Cather respects the character of such furnishings and, like many Modernist writers, prefers the traditional touches of civilization to the mass-produced items that are all identical.

Cather describes the carpentry industry of the time as relying on ax-hewing, because a lathe and sawmill are not available. This results in one-of-a-kind furnishings that evoke the care and artistry of the carpenters who built them. The reader is subtly reminded that Jesus was a carpenter by trade.

Vaillant's remembering of his gardens in Ohio prompt him to state that a missionary's life is "to plant where another shall reap." This is a foreshadowing of the gardens Vaillant and Latour will plant in the souls of their diocese. It also foreshadows that priests can plant gardens that are grandiose but corrupt, as is the case of Fray Baltazar Montoya, who enslaved his parish for the sake of his garden and fruit trees.

Although reluctant at this stage to travel beyond Santa Fe, Vaillant is portrayed as a man who will wear out guides, mules, stage drivers, and horses in the New Mexico territory.

Glossary

Novena the recitation of prayers and the practicing of devotions.

compote a dish of fruits stewed in a syrup.

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