At one point in Willa Cather’s novel, My Ãntonia, her narrator eager to flee his small-town Nebraska home reflects on his fellows and almost seems to wish he could be like they, content in that rural environment.Â But, he is ever eager to escape to the world beyond.Â
Fascinated in his childhood by the exotic eponymous Ãntonia, a beautiful young woman of Bohemian extraction, he returns to his home as an adult (at the end of the book) to discover her living the ordinary life of a Midwestern housewife and at peace in her rural surroundings.
Unlike other writers who fled their Midwestern homes, Willa Cather always showed an appreciation for those who lived a life she could not live.
I thought of her a lot this weekend when I read of Barack Obama’s now infamous comment about the bitterness of gun-toting Christians in small-town America.Â It’s why the scene in search of a story, the subject of my most recent post, came to mind.Â The younger brother of that tale, will, in the course of his return trip to the Midwest, learn what Cather discovered nearly a century previously, of the basic decency of Americans in, what is to many urban Ã©lites, “flyover” country.
The Democratic frontrunner’s comments reminded me of what my (as-yet unrealized) screen hero felt before he returned home for his father’s funeral.
When, over the years, I have heard some of my peers, whether in the New England college I attended, in Washington, D.C., or in Hollywood, discuss their fellow citizens, it seems a certain strain of them (most of whom hold leftish politics and vote Democratic), I have heard from many nothing but contempt. Â These people, they claim, are shallow, hypocritical and, worst of all, duped into voting Republican.Â The GOP, they claim, is better able to gin up the masses by appealing to their prejudices.
A view of small-town America not too different from that offered by the Chicago politician recently in San Francisco.
But, I wonder if, in assuming, rural Americans vote Republican because of their bitterness, they’re projecting their own anxieties and malcontent onto those who live lives they could not live in places they choose not to visit. Â When these urban and coastal denizens “get bitter,” they turn to fancy wines or leftist politics or “antipathy to people who aren’t like them” or anti-Republican or anti-war “sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”