Book 9 Chapter 3
Summary: The morning after his return to Santa Fe, Latour awakens glad to be near the cathedral, where he knows he will be buried. The juxtaposition of the sounds of church bells and a locomotive engine lead him to reflect on what has changed, and what has not, during the time of his ministry in the New World.
Analysis: This chapter offer furthers confirmation that Latour has become fully “of the South.” Where his friends and relatives had expected him to retire to France, Latour “in the Old World… found himself homesick for the New” (p. 272). What distinguishes the two worlds is that, while he retains affection for his native country, he also feels that it has “too much past” (p. 272). Although Cather’s novel has affirmed on several occasions the value of a connection to, a continuity with, the past, we see here that it is not all that is important. The present must be fully lived in and appreciated, as well, and Latour knows this—even as he is living his last days. “In New Mexico he always awoke a young man” (p. 272); and the local wind makes his “body feel light and [his] heart cry, ‘To-day, to-day’ like a child’s” (p. 273). All of Europe’s cultivation “could not make up… for [the loss of] that wind that made one a boy again” (p. 273). The wind, of course, is an important biblical symbol—Jesus uses the wind as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit (John 3)—so it would naturally be an important symbol in Latour’s faith. Here, however, it does not represent any specifically Christian doctrine of the Spirit, but a more basic sense of youth and renewal, the same youth and renewal that characterized the New World in many European eyes. Now, however, as “civilization” encroaches more upon the frontier—represented by the sound of the train that Latour hears upon awakening—that youthful spirit is somewhat threatened: “He had noticed that this peculiar quality in the air of new countries vanished after they were tamed by man and made to bear harvests” (p. 273). Latour is experiencing a sense of fin-de-siè·cle, the melancholy realization of loss associated specifically with the end of the 19th century, but more generally as any era comes to a close. Latour recognizes that he has, indeed, “accomplished an historic period” (p. 271), but that this period will soon be past. He will, in essence, die with it. Latour has thus become as much of a particular time as he has a particular place.