The Professorís House:

A Loss of Identity

In Willa Catherís The Professorís House, we see a changing persona in Godfrey St. Peter. Early in the story, St. Peter is a man continually looking and preparing for his future, a man who holds dear to his principles and ideals. The story concludes with an almost frail St. Peter, withdrawn from everything he deems important in his life. He abandons everything that has made him who he is and lives in the memory of his lost and "primitive" (Cather 241) youth. He longs for his Kansas boyhood when he truly lived as a boy more aware of the important things in life. Itís an insight with reference to the intense memory of his fallen friend Tom Outland, who has become a symbol of St. Peterís lost youth. His growing distaste for society and how his family is caught up in its materialism makes him long for that world he believed to be pure and whole as a young Kansas boy (Hilgart 388). These intense emotions bring him to an indifference to life so great he is willing to accept death.

Throughout the entire story, we see St. Peter growing more and more detached from his family. His manner at family dinner parties is mute and passive. Lillian, the professorís wife, has an acute awareness of St. Peterís changing manner yet cannot place itís cause. She lectures him and he gives her the excuse he is merely tired for never "slight [ing] anything" (Cather 143) in his life. St. Peter at this point knows this is a disguise for what he is truly feeling. His problem is the change he sees in his family. This change is mainly due to the introduction of his daughtersí husbands, most notably Marsellus. Marsellus, Rosamondís husband, is perhaps the main culprit to this change. His money causes vanity in Rosamond, which in turn evokes jealousy in Kathleen, St. Peterís other daughter. We see the professorís perplexity at Lillianís change in attitude around Marsellus. She becomes caught up in his glitter and excess. Lillian is attracted to his vivacity and eagerness which is an almost an exact contradiction to St. Peter\'s somber attitude. He remembers his daughters as innocent girls, untainted by the world, and a wife who responded to his youthful exhilaration as she does now to Marsellus. To St. Peter, an unfamiliar family is formed by this change and he, constrained by his values, does not change with them. His uncertainty of them is seen when he tells Lillian the story of Euripides going to live alone in a cave by the sea because his house had not agreed with him. St. Peter says to this, "I wonder whether it was because he (Euripides) had observed women so closely all his life" (Cather 136).

The change in St. Peterís family is disappointing to him. He is a man with high expectations, morals, and a sense of what is good in people. We see his family betraying all these traits with their fondness for societyís empty glamour. St. Peter remembers, with pleasure, his innocent girls wildly in love with Tom Outland and his stories of the Southwest. These memories bring an intense emotion of nostalgia for pure and wholesome days. Again, the professorís disappointment is seen over the sparring over the patent money. It is this money that has been the root of change St. Peter has begun to abhor. In addition, Tom Outlandís memory has been tainted by this money. The professor believes the money is a smear on the pure and spotless story of Outland. He rejects this wealth because he will not participate in allowing his memory of Tom to be "translated into the vulgar tongue" (Cather 50).

Cather portrays St. Peter as an individual set in his ways and not willing to change. It is this stubbornness which refuses to allow him to become like his family. He sees them as wrong because of their new attitude. St. Peter depicts his familyís imperfection as being cause for his solitude. But it is St. Peter unwillingness to change and adapt that is the root of his problems. Lillian tells him this when she says, "One must go on living, Godfrey. But it wasnít the