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Mistaken Presumptions Essay

1140 words - 5 pages

Stimulating characters that evolve with the plot are fundamental in most novels. These characters could range from the Mary Sue protagonist to the chaotically evil antagonist. In A Lost Lady, Niel Herbert is a significant character along this spectrum. Although Willa Cather herself pointed out he is merely a "peephole" and a "subordinate" to the woman she truly cared for, Niel is a central aspect since he carries the story (132: 20). Early in the novel, he is already portrayed as the classic hero as he injures himself trying to alleviate the woodpecker of its pain. A more intense insight, however, is gathered from him as the plot develops and as he matures. Consequently, Niel discredits ...view middle of the document...

Also, when Marian Forrester decides to stay in Sweet Waters for the winter, he expresses he could not see her among common people, which shows he condones a high-power distance society (41). Additionally, in recounting how he first thought of Ellinger, Niel found him interesting, and was unsure if he liked him or not, albeit, he “felt something evil” (46). Niel does not wholly think of Ellinger disparagingly when they first meet. He only begins to vilify him when he realizes Ellinger and Marian are together. He exacerbates his judgment of Ellinger based on his jealousy alone. Niel's ignorant partiality hinders his objectivity. Even more deplorable is he never learns. Although his lack of knowledge was never physically lethal, the ideas he held and his logic may be perilous to the society. Through his condemnation of Ellinger based in bitterness, and his elevation of the wealthy, Niel demonstrated he is a bigot; therefore, he never deserved to be recognized as a hero.
Although Niel Herbert was initially portrayed in a heroic light, he does not deserve this adulation for he embraced patriarchal ideals. Niel blatantly shows his admiration for Marian Forrester by incessantly extolling her beauty and charm. No fault could be attributed to Niel for doing so. He, however, limits Marian by focusing on her aesthetic qualities alone, which subsequently downplays her as the strong woman she actually is. Catherine D. Holmes of the College of Charleston views Marian through Niel Herbert’s perspective, and attests Marian was merely a doll living in a dollhouse (Holmes). As has been previously established however, Niel is bigoted, and inherent to all forms of prejudice, since it is founded on ignorance, is the consequential loss of credibility for its perpetrator. Thus, one may safely conclude Niel is an unreliable narrator. In fact, Marian Forrester is far from being a doll. Niel, as the narrator, makes it appear so for he never sees beyond the pretentious aesthetic qualities he has attached to Marian. He almost never goes beyond her external characteristics in limning her. In an article for Colby Library Quarterly, a journal dedicated to literature, Anneliese H. Smith contends Marian Forrester is a strong woman for “[a]lthough betrayed, victimized, Marian Forrester wrests a bittersweet triumph from her refusal to assume the role of victim.” Further, Cather...

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