Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather Summary and Analysis Book 4: Chapter 1

Summary

One month after Latour's visit to Gallegos, Latour formally suspends him and replaces him with Vaillant. Vaillant immediately changes the tone of the parish from revelry to devotion, which is initially received with hostility by the Albuquerque Catholics. By Christmas, however, the parishioners join in Vaillant's religious zeal.

Latour sends Vaillant to Las Vegas on urgent business, but the younger priest does not return when he is expected. Latour is told several days after Vaillant's expected arrival that he has been taken ill while helping a village in the Pecos mountains handle an outbreak of black measles. Latour rides an army mule to the Pecos pueblo, where he enlists the aid of Jacinto. Jacinto and the other Indians convince Latour to stay overnight to avoid heavy winds. Against his wishes to help his friend immediately, Latour agrees to spend the night at the pueblo.

The respite offers Latour the opportunity to question his judgment on bringing the sickly and frail Vaillant to the Southwest. The reader is told that Vaillant had been prone to illness since childhood. When the two young men were seminarians, Vaillant had been sent every year to recuperate in the Volvic mountains. When the two men were in Ohio, Vaillant had taken ill with cholera twice. Latour hopes that his friend can once again cheat death.

During dinner, Latour is told that Jacinto's baby is sick. He knows better than to recommend medical treatment because Indians distrust white medicine. The author tells the reader from Latour's point-of-view that Indian child mortality was high and that fertility was low. Smallpox and measles had decimated the Indian population.

The reader is also told that there are many dark legends of Pecos, one of which is that the Indians serve a secret fire that drains their virility, and that they sacrifice their babies to a sacred snake that is kept in the mountain and brought to the pueblo for feasts. Latour disbelieves the legends, choosing instead to believe that disease has caused the tribe to shrink.

Latour reads his breviary by the firelight after pondering the history of the Pecos pueblo. The only sounds he hears are the baby's crying and the wind outdoors.

Analysis

The colors used by Cather in this chapter emphasize the dark Indian customs. Black measles are the cause of the trip. Black clouds force Latour to stay overnight in Pecos. The wind out of the black cloud is described as a message of a remote, black past. The population of the pueblo is dwindling. Jacinto's baby is dying. The bleak depiction of the pueblo is contrasted with the final image of the chapter@ — the church among the ruins, which "still braved the storm and let in the starlight."

The old, superstitious ways of the Indians are dying with the tribes. The Church and modernity@ — as well as the legends of the white man about the Indians@ — are replacing them.

Glossary

breviary a book containing the Psalms, readings, prayers, and so on of the Divine Office, a form of prayer offered daily by priests.

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