Of the many short stories I have read over the years, I remember few of those as well as I remember Willa Cather’s 1930 story “Neighbor Rosicky.” I simply have to wonder what magic Cather used with such ease to stamp the impression of a gentle “neighbor Rosicky” to my brain. I think her main tool lies in the fact that she showed Rosicky’s kind and considerate reactions to every situation she put him in.
Rosicky does not yell; he speaks softly. He does not panic when his crops go bad; he takes his family on a picnic. Even as Rosicky knows he is dying of a bad heart, this Czech immigrant farmer in his 60s tries to ensure that his son and daughter-in-law enjoy a happy marriage, as he fears they will not.
Cather did not implant this story so deeply into my mind by telling her readers all these things. Instead, she used multiple details, sometimes details that might seem insignificant even, to display that fact.
I first read “Neighbor Rosicky” when I was a freshman in high school. At that time, I enjoyed stories about adventure or excitement. Even then, Cather captured my attention through her story, through her description. “Neighbor Rosicky” shows that many details, as long as they are not simply told, do not necessarily distract from a story.