Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapter 1

Summary

The chapter begins with Father Joseph Vaillant returning from a visit to Albuquerque. He contemplates the people of Santo Domingo, who will come to hear but will not allow their children to be baptized. The Spanish have mistreated them long ago, and they do not forget. Father Joseph rides a wind-broken horse, sold to him by a Yankee trader, which he believes is evidence of his own mistreatment.

Vaillant arrives at Lujon Ranch. He commands Lujon to bring the men from the fields so that he can sanctify their marriages. The children can be baptized the following morning. Lujon sees no need of hurry but does as the priest asks. The old women servants gossip about how ugly Vaillant is and how bad times are.

Vaillant insists on cooking his own leg of lamb. The Mexicans are horrified that he prefers to eat his meat rare. At the table, they discuss his useless horse. The priest tells Lujon that he could not trade the horse in Santo Domingo, because the people are suspicious of priests there.

Vaillant tells Lujon of his encounter with Father Gallegos in Albuquerque. Vaillant had admonished Gallegos for his gambling. He believes that a priest should not make money off his parish. Lujon laughs at the priest's frankness. He had hoped that Vaillant would play cards, but he settles for dominoes and grape brandy.

The next morning, Vaillant sees Lujon's pair of white mules. The men discuss the poor condition of Vaillant's horse. Finally, Lujon gives the priest Contento. Vaillant is delighted but tells Lujon the following morning that he cannot accept the gift. He tells Lujon that his vicar rides a horse as poor as Vaillant's, and a lesser priest cannot appear with a better mount than his superior. Lujon presents Vaillant with both mules, Contento and Angelica, and although he believes he has been tricked into it, he isn't sorry.

Analysis

This chapter enumerates the problems facing priests. The ancient prejudice among the Indians of Santo Domingo stems from Spanish injustice. Vaillant's purchase of a feeble horse derives from the unscrupulous business practices of the Yankee trader. Cather balances these problems with the character of Manuelito Lujon, a rancher who allows himself to be tricked into donating both of his prized mules to Vaillant.

The women servants on the Lujon ranch wonder to each other what good Vaillant's performances of marriages will have on the ranch. They remark that the men and women have been together for a long time and have produced children together without the benefit of marriage. They also comment that some of the men have become adulterous with the younger, unattached women. Their conversation is interrupted by the appearance of Vaillant, who performs the marriages and announces that he will baptize the children the following day. This leaves the reader to believe that the sinful behavior of adults living together out of wedlock, as well as the adulterous behavior, are the result of Original Sin, which is absolved through the sacrament of baptism.

Once again, the appearance of Vaillant is depicted as unattractive. The Mexican women think his ugliness is proportionate to his holiness, and that he must be very holy. Vaillant is depicted also as clever in his manipulations of Lujon to receive both mules.

Glossary

canvassing to go through places or among people asking for (money, votes, opinions, orders, and so on.

worried to cause to feel troubled or uneasy; make anxious; distress.

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