A Wagner Matinée

by

Willa Cather

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Black Symbol Analysis

Black Symbol Icon

The color black symbolizes the absence of vitality and culture in the story, particularly in the dull, uncivilized environment of the prairie homestead. Georgiana arrives from Nebraska wearing a duster “black with soot” and a “black bonnet grey with dust” from her nightmarish train journey. This signifies the ways in which the toil of life on the homestead appears to have seeped into her very being, changing her so drastically that she is at first unrecognizable to Clark. She also appears at the concert in an unfashionable black dress, which Clark initially thinks must make her feel uncomfortable and separate from the rest of the more cultured audience. Indeed, Georgiana is struck by other women’s blur of dresses—the color of bodices past counting … red, mauve, pink, blue, lilac, purple, ecru, rose, yellow, cream, and white, all the colors that an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape.” She “regarded them as though they had been so many daubs of tube-paint on a palette,” implicitly associating them both with art—a source of beauty and vitality for both Georgiana and Clark—and a life as of yet unformed; unlike Georgiana, who has chosen (and may regret) her path, these “daubs of paint” could still become anything. In contrast, each time the homestead is described, it is dark, drab, and unvarying: “the tall, naked house on the prairie, black and grim … the black pond,” with no other noteworthy color attributed to the scene: “cattle-tracked bluffs … weather-curled boards … gaunt, molting turkeys.” Such a lack of color instills the homestead with a distinct air of drudgery and despair, suggesting it as a place that smothers vibrancy and hope for anything more.

Black Quotes in A Wagner Matinée

The A Wagner Matinée quotes below all refer to the symbol of Black. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Wagner Matinée published in 1992.
A Wagner Matinee Quotes

The matinée audience was made up chiefly of women. One lost the contour of faces and figures, indeed any effect of line whatever, and there was only the colour of bodices past counting red, mauve, pink, blue, lilac, purple, écru, rose, yellow, cream, and white, all the colours that an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape, with here and there the dead shadow of a frock coat. My Aunt Georgiana regarded them as though they had been so many daubs of tube-paint on a palette.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

She preserved this utter immobility throughout the number from The Flying Dutchman, though her fingers worked mechanically upon her black dress, as if, of themselves, they were recalling the piano score they had once played. Poor hands! They had been stretched and twisted into mere tentacles to hold and lift and knead with;—on one of them a thin, worn band that had once been a wedding ring. As I pressed and gently quieted one of those groping hands, I remembered with quivering eyelids their services for me in other days.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

I spoke to my aunt. She burst into tears and sobbed pleadingly. “I don’t want to go, Clark, I don’t want to go!”

I understood. For her, just outside the concert hall, lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs; the tall, unpainted house, with weather-curled boards, naked as a tower; the crook-backed ash seedlings where the dish-cloths hung to dry; the gaunt, moulting turkeys picking up refuse about the kitchen door.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Georgiana Carpenter (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:
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Black Symbol Timeline in A Wagner Matinée

The timeline below shows where the symbol Black appears in A Wagner Matinée. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Wagner Matinee
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...immediately, either. Having traveled the entire way in a day coach, she is dirty—her duster “black with soot” and her “black bonnet gray with dust.” Clark’s landlady immediately puts Georgiana to... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
...to her surroundings. Clark had been concerned that Georgiana might be self-conscious about her outdated black dress or embarrassed at reentering a world “to which she had been dead for a... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
...up mostly of women, hardly distinguishable except for the different fabrics and wide array of colors of their dresses— “all the colors that an impressionist finds in a sunlit landscape.” Georgiana... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
...and wear we are so powerless to combat.” He visualizes the Nebraska farm, the house “black and grim as a wooden fortress,” the land “the flat world of the ancients.” Amidst... (full context)
Civilization vs. The Frontier Theme Icon
Music and the Human Soul Theme Icon
Home and Estrangement Theme Icon
Clark understands. For Georgiana, outside the concert hall “lay the black pond with the cattle-tracked bluffs,” the weathered house, and an environment promising endless work and... (full context)