In Part IV, ‘The Ancient People’, of Cather’s “Song of the Lark”, Thea Kronborg, having become ill and stressed by her pursuit of musical success in Chicago, is embarking upon a trip to Arizona, through Navajo country. Sent by her new found Polish friend, Fred Ottenburg, a sort of patron of the musical arts, Thea is once again, off in search of herself. Her good fortune to be taken under the wing of this man has enabled her to go on this retreat. Her destination is to stay in Panther Cañon, where the Polish man’s father owns a ranch filled with Cliff-Dweller ruins. Thea, finding a dismal life in the Windy City, where she is passed on from music teacher to teacher, teaching also, as a way to make a living, enduring a life of personal failure, by living in dusty dirty and mold infested boarding houses, is more than happy to make the trip. The ending of the first chapter, from Part IV, describes the transition Thea is making, where failure rescues her from an undesirable urban existence.
So far she had failed. Her two years in Chicago had not resulted in anything. She had failed with Harsanyi, and she had made not great progress with her voice. She had come to believe that whatever Bowers had taught her was of secondary importance, and that in the essential things she had made no advance. Her student life closed behind her, like the forest, and she doubted whether she could go back to it if she tried.
Probably she would teach music in little country towns all her life. Failure was not so tragic as she would have supposed; she was tired enough not to care.
She was getting back to the earliest sources of gladness that she could remember. She had loved the sun, and the brilliant solitudes of sand and sun, long before these other things had come along to fasten themselves upon her and torment her. That night, when she clambered into her big German feather bed, she felt completely released from the enslaving desire to get on in the world. Darkness had once again the sweet wonder that it had in childhood.
With two more Parts left to the book, i.e., “Dr. Archie’s Venture,” and “Kronborg,” it will be interesting to see what lies in the future for Thea. We’ve seen this young Swedish woman, move on from a small girl in her hometown of Moonstone, fight for survival in the big city, try to make a musical career for herself, and now, take an R & R in the South West. Will she follow a path of enlightenment? Will she continue to conclude that success is a many faceted experience, and that it is necessary to face failure, before one comes to find purpose and meaning in life? Will Thea realize that happiness is derived from other vital driving forces on the journey? One hundred and sixty pages will tell, what’s in store for the end.