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Three principle characters make up Willa Cather’s short story “Coming, Aphrodite!”. The first one and the one that would be considered the protagonist is a reclusive artist named Don Hedger. He lives by himself in a New York City duplex and manages to make a decent living as far as artists go. He’s able to travel significantly because he travels light. Cather describes his daily routines in detail with this passage capturing Hedger’s life very simply:
…he spent [his time]…groping his way from one kind of painting into another, or travelling about without luggage, like a tramp, and he was chiefly occupied with getting rid of ideas he had once thought very fine.
Next enters the second character, Miss Eden Bower. She moves in to the other part of Hedger’s duplex. As I expected, Eden, an aspiring young singer, becomes Ledger’s obsession. As he watches her through knotholes in the wall, she becomes “the immortal conception, the perennial theme.” Eventually, they begin a relationship as she finds him at least somewhat intriguing as an artist. However, his idea of success, which doesn’t necessarily include tons of money, doesn’t quite mesh with her idea.
Artists seem to be common characters in Cather’s short stories. In the handful that I’ve read, at least half of them have artists and their careers as the subject. In most cases, I find the themes of artists and their ability to make a living and their ability to socialize with others fascinating. While the relationship between Ledger and Bower made for interesting reading, it seemed to have a “been there, done that” feel to it. In my opinion, the inclusion of a third character made the story unique.
Caesar III, Hedger’s Boston Bull Terrier, adored his master in the way many dogs do. He loved being carried up the latter to the apartment roof to watch the stars with Hedger at night. He saw Miss Bower as nothing but an intrusion into his ability to be “man’s best friend”:
As a long, despairing whine broke in the warm stillness, they drew apart. Caesar, lying on his bed in the dark corner, had lifted his head at this invasion of sunlight, and realized that the side of his room was broken open, and his whole world shattered by change. There stood his master and this woman, laughing at him! The woman was pulling the long black hair of this mightiest of men, who bowed his head and permitted it.
Cather’s writing and story bring out some great thoughts about art and success that are worth reading and thinking about; however, her ability to work in the perspective of a dog without being too sentimental is what I’ll remember most about this story.