Willa Cather's Song of the Lark: Summary & Explanation

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This article summarizes Willa Cather's novel, The Song of the Lark, and describes the main character's ambitions, and how they led her to pursue her life's passion, music. Read the article, and then take the quiz.

You're One in a Million

Big breaks are the stuff of movies and miniseries everywhere. The basic formula is the same: a young girl or guy comes of age, and strikes out to achieve their dreams, usually facing some sort of adversity on the way. While she was no Beyonce, the protagonist in Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark, overcomes her own struggles to reach her musical ambitions, sometimes at the expense of the relationships that she forges in order to get to the top.

Willa Cather

I've Got Friends (In Weird Places)

Thea Kronborg is one of the daughters of the Methodist minister in the town of Moonstone, Colorado. One of six children, Thea knows that she is meant for more than her small town existence. She takes piano lessons from Herr Wunsch, an alcoholic outcast who sees in Thea a great talent. Her mother encourages her talent, and insists on her lessons. This is different from her father, who along with her sister Anna, is critical of Thea, and her talents. Thea is fond of her lessons, and likes to hang out with the Mexicans in town, who are generally musically inclined. She also hangs out with her siblings, and Ray Kennedy, who is in love with Thea, despite being so much older than she is. Dr. Archie, the town physician, also supports Thea, and sees talent in her.

Thea plays in a concert for the whole town, but is not recognized in the way that she thinks she should. Stung by this, she continues on with her lessons with Herr Wunsch, until he is injured coming home drunk. After this, no one wants to have lessons with him anymore, and he leaves the town in disgrace. Thea sees this as an opportunity, and begins giving lessons herself. After a short while, she leaves school, as she does not have time to teach and attend school. Her father is still critical of Thea, and does not think she is as pious as her older sister, Anna, something that widens the divide between Anna and Thea. Ray's train has an accident, with a train engine running into his caboose. Dr. Archie comes to Thea's father, and tells him that Ray had a life insurance policy for six hundred dollars, and that he left it to Thea for her musical training. Despite his misgivings, Mr. Kronborg allows Thea to go away to train.

Upon arriving in Chicago, Thea takes piano lessons, and sings in a church choir. She also takes some freelance singing work to earn extra money. When her piano teacher hears about this, he insists she sing for him, and is impressed by her talent. He finds her a vocal coach, telling her that her true talent lies in her vocal ability. After a while of lessons, Thea returns home, confident in her new ability. When she returns home, she goes to visit her old friends the Mexicans, who invite her to perform at a party with them. Thea does so, and enjoys it greatly. However, when she returned home, her old arguments with her pious sister Anna reemerge, with Anna telling Thea that she wasted her gift, and should use it in church. Thea swears she will not return to Moonstone until she has made a name for herself singing.

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