Term paper on “Her boss” by Willa Sibert Cather.

The story under consideration is a short story “Her boss” by Willa Sibert Cather. The protagonist of the story, Paul Wanning, who is a lawyer, is suddenly shocked by the news that his kidney is not in order and that he should die in course of a few months. But nobody seems to care about the state of his health and inevitable death, not even his wife and daughters. So, the topic of the story is human cruelty and indifference to the problems of others. Further we will analyze the topic and give evidence from the text in support of our thesis. Such analysis will allow us to gain a thorough understanding of the text, because it entails the analysis of plot, setting, characters and their motives.

The setting of the story is evidently America, New York of the beginning of the XX century. Paul Wanning has a beautiful house and a family he adores. He is sixty year old lawyer, working in a law firm with his companions, Alec McQuiston and Mr. Wade. His wife is fifty-five and still a lovely woman, his daughters Roma and Florence are around thirty, but still unmarried. His son, Harold, is a “yet unproduced” (unsuccessful) playwright and lives separately in Washington Square. Paul Wanning himself looks more fifty than sixty: “”¦his sandy hair did not show the gray in it”¦His fresh skin made him look younger than he was” (Cather). More so, it is a shock for him when his personal doctor Seares announces to Mr. Wanning that his kidney may stop working any day soon and he has probably a few months left to live. The poor man muses: “”¦that he, whose time was so full, might have to leave not only his house and his office and his club, but a world with which he was extremely well satisfied”¦” (Cather). It seems a cruel joke to him. But still, he doesn’t wish to bother his family with news of his near death. But his wife had already told the news to their daughters and the son. Though his wife is trying to comfort him it is not clear if her concern is genuine. Judging from the thoughts of Mr. Wanning himself, we can infer that probably, Mrs. Wanning is concerned more about the prospect of losing the stable income which her husband provided: “”¦ Julia’s childlike desire to possess material objects, to buy what other people were buying”¦” (Cather). The only person in the house, who seemed to understand and sincerely sympathize Mr. Wanning was his servant Sam: “There was not a detail about the examination and the laboratory tests in which Sam did not show the deepest concern” (Cather). He was the only person Wanning could talk with about his illness. His daughters were completely indifferent. They chatted idly about their dance performance in the morning, asked Paul if they could borrow his car for the day. In summer, all Wanning family left the city on vacation, except Mr. Wanning himself. Roma went to Genoa to her friend Contessa Jenny, Harold went to Cornish, Mrs. Wanning and Florence took a cottage at York Harbour, where Paul was supposed to join them later. Everyone was enjoying himself while Paul contemplated what he should do during a time left for him. He tried to share his thoughts with his son Harold, but this young man was too hollow and had no sense of realism in him to grasp the importance of his father’s words. Harold was talking like some character from one of his unsuccessful plays ”“ he was trying to be pleasant and amusing: “Harold’s speech”¦told you that he had no sense of the absurd, ”“ a throaty staccato, with never a downward inflection, trustfully striving to please”¦” (Cather). Harold was always agreeable and cheerful but pushed away facts that displeased him. His companions in the firm ignored him, when he told him about his illness: “When he broke the news of his condition to his partners that morning, they shut him off as if he were uttering indecent ravings. All day they had met him with a hurried, abstracted manner” (Cather).

It was at work where Paul Wanning had stumbled upon a “kind soul”, a young girl named Annie Wooley, who was working as a copyist in his law firm. It was then and there when Paul decided that he should write down his memoirs and Annie was just the person to do it for him. Throughout summer Paul and Annie were almost inseparable, going to restaurants and even theatres together, although Annie was of much humbler birth and station than Mr. Wanning. She was doing it not for the money that Wanning so often tried to give her, but of pure kindness and sense of mercy. But still, in the eyes of his contemporaries and society, Annie’s frequent presence with Mr. Wanning overshadowed both his and her reputation. As a result, Paul Wanning was regarded as insane by both his companions and Annie lost her job immediately after Paul’s death. The herald of those bias was Alec McQuiston. He said to Paul’s son Harold the following: “”¦your father was not quite himself all this summer. A man like your father does not, in his right senses, find pleasure in the society of an ignorant, common little girl. He does not make a practise of keeping her at the office after hours, often until eight o’clock, or take her to restaurants and to the theater with him” (Cather). Even one thousand dollars, which Paul Wanning had granted Annie in his will as a token of gratitude for her kindness, were not paid her.

This is a story about selfishness of the people, which surround us. The author masterfully depicted that in our dire need of consolation and kind words, on our deathbed, even the nearest relatives and family members can abandon us. It is a pity that such people as Annie Woolie, selfless and sincerely helpful and sympathetic are so rare and usually have to suffer for their kindness.


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