Death Comes for the Archbishop


Differing Challenges: Comparison and Contrast of Magdalena and Dona Isabella

February 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop focuses on the efforts of a priest and a Catholic Bishop to start a diocese in the New Mexico Terrain covering themes of religion, violence, hypocrisy, and race. The novel entails two intriguing characters in the book Magdalena, the wife of Buck Scales and Doña Isabella, the wife of Don Antonio Olivares. We see Magdalena as the spouse of Buck Scales when Father Latour and Vaillant stop by their home to rest. Her husband is abusive to her, murderer and thief. She later reports her husband to the authorities and arrested for multiple homicides. She then dedicates her life to the church and becomes a nun at a convent in New Mexico where she is happy with her life and begins to enjoy life once more. Dona Isabella Olivares is the second wife of Don Antonio Olivares who is among the wealthiest people in New Mexico. We first encounter her when her husband Antonio decides to fund the establishment of the church in New Mexico. As depicted in the novel, both women face trials in their lives; however, how they address them contrasts their personalities and personal qualities.

Magdalena is the definition of a focused woman who knows what she wants in life and what is the right thing from the wrong thing. Magdalene is a brave woman as she takes it upon herself to flee from her husband and warn the priest of what is to come. She is a strong and enduring woman for the fact that she lived with a murderous husband. The narrator explains how Magdalena has become beautiful and happy once more “a handsome woman she had grown to be, with her comely figure and the deep claret color under the golden brown of her cheeks” (Cather 141). Father Latour says that by looking at how happy she is, gives him a religious experience which prompts visions like “at one moment the whole flock of doves caught the light in such a way that they all became invisible at once” (Cather 141). While at the convent, she is hardworking as she is constantly in the garden working or doing anything that keeps her busy. She is a goal oriented woman who wants to accomplish great things.

Contrary, Dona is a learned and smart woman but takes it for granted to follow the vanities of the world. Dona is a desperate woman who is an old but still physically attractive woman full of energy. The narrator describes her as “…a gracious hostess, and though no longer very young, she was still attractive to the eye; a slight woman, spirited, quick in movement” (Cather 120). Her physical appearance triggers a gossip that she might be cheating on her husband with younger men outside her marriage. She was an educated woman who spoke French and a bit of Spanish. She also played the harp and sang delightfully. When her husband dies before he can fulfill his promise to the priests, it is up to her to fulfill it. Dona Isabella had to prove that she could run and inherit her husband wealth by professing her age to everyone. Father Latour convinces her to make the right choice by telling her; “You understand…that your husband’s brothers are determined to disregard his wishes…. This is no time for childish vanity (Cather 129). However, her vanity renders her very reluctant on letting people know her age.

Magdalena and Dona Isabella are both women who faced with moments of trial; the difference comes in what they are facing. Magdalena is in a very critical situation, but she makes the right decision regardless. Dona is met with whether to pronounce her age before the court so that she can safeguard her inheritance or let her secret remain unknown. The brothers of her husband task her with a simple choice, but she is unable to make a decision on her own. Magdalena as a poor woman who thinks that by marrying an American man she will achieve her goals but it turns out that his husband is the opposite of what she expected him to be. Regardless she perseveres and becomes victorious in leaving that life behind and focusing on having a better life ahead. Despite Dona Isabella being a wealthy and smart woman, she is a desperate woman who does not know what she should do with herself. She is troubled by a petty thing such as her age. She is infatuated with being young that she loses sight of what is important in life. She does not appreciate her life and what her husband has given her.

Work Cited

Cather, Wilella Sibert. Death Comes for the Archbishop. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927. Novel.

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