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“Neighbor Rosicky” Study/Discussion Questions
Note: Oftentimes study/discussion questions have a variety of “correct” answers, sometimes even correct, contradictory
answers. All of these correct answers, however, have a couple of shared characteristics. First, they are supported with
apt direct textual evidence, and second, they include a logical, compelling explanation of how the evidence proves the
answer’s viability.
Part work, part logic, part whimsy and alchemy, literary analysis is an active intelligence speaking directly to what speaks
to us all. It is an act of creation and discovery, finding meaning in the text and in ourselves.
Here is an example study question with a couple of reasonable answers.
How does Doctor Burleigh function in the story?
Doctor Burleigh acts as a kind of frame, a character who helps reveal and give shape to Anton Rosicky’s
character. He is a kind of everyman whose interactions with and observations of Rosicky efficiently reveal Rosicky’s
kindness, generosity, and wisdom. For example, the story opens with Burleigh regretfully telling “neighbor Rosicky
he had a bad heart.” During the conversation that follows, readers learn that Rosicky is a hard and happy worker,
and according to Doctor Burleigh, “‘one of the few men …who has a family he can get some comfort out of’” if
Rosicky is able to stay out of the fields and “’sit around the house and help Mary.’” After receiving the devastating
news that his “asthma” is actually a failing heart and that his best case scenario is to possibly live another “five or
six years yet,” Rosicky maintains his equanimity and good humor. When Dr. Burleigh asks about Polly, Rosicky’s
new daughter-in-law, Rosicky responds with a “voice and a twinkly smile that were an affectionate compliment to
his daughter-in-law.” What is particularly striking about Burleigh and Rosicky’s exchange is the lack of drama—
niceties about Rosicky’s family and Rosicky’s joke about needing “to git a new” heart. In other words, when Rosicky
learns that he is extremely bad health, is no able to do the farm work so central to his existence, he accepts the
news, not with shock, not with pity, but with grace and dignity, as if heart failure is a minor setback. Indeed, after
Rosicky leaves, we learn that he is even more than he seems, when Doctor Burliegh contemplates how Rosicky
“look[s] the Doctor in the eye so knowing,…hold[ing] out such a warm brown hand when he said goodbye.”
Rosicky’s untroubled response, as the Doctor’s reflection reveals, does not stem from an inability to recognize what
is happening. It is not ignorance or delusion that allows him to joke and visit amidst terrible news, but his nobility, a
quiet, formidable strength that allows him to think of others in his hour of need.
Wow, that was long.
Choice B (Same Question) How does Dr. Burleigh function in the story?
Doctor Burleigh is the story’s exposition. In the guise of a character, Dr. Burley interprets and explains
Rosicky’s meaning. Early in the story, immediately after Rosicky leaves his office, “the Doctor wished it [the
stethoscope] had been telling tales about some other man’s heart, some old man who didn’t look the Doctor in the
eye so knowingly, or hold out such a warm brown hand when he said good-by.” Dr. Burleigh’s thought serves as a
summing up of Rosicky’s specialness, a casual but precise explanation of his gift. This seemingly modest, ordinary
man possesses a “contented disposition and reflective quality” that colors everything he does, finding joy in simple
pleasures and bringing fellowship and comfort to those he knows. It is Doctor Burleigh who makes the final
observation about Rosicky and his life, a life that “seemed to” Doctor Burleigh “complete and beautiful.” Indeed, in
that “beautiful graveyard” Doctor Burleigh knows that Rosicky is at peace among his neighbors—just as he always
has been.
Your Study/Discussion Questions
I How would you describe Rosicky’s character?
II Describe Anton and Mary Rosicky’s relationship. In your description include some discussion of how they
complement (not compliment) one another.
III Explain the meaning of the story’s title and how it contributes to the effectiveness of the work as a
IV What’s the deal with Rosicky’s hands? How are they connected to his character?
V What is the story’s central conflict? It is not Rosicky’s heart. His bad heart just gives Rosicky a sense of
VI What is the point of Rosicky’s story of his time in London? For whom does he tell the story and what
does he hope to accomplish by telling it?
VII Part of this story is about sets of competing values, one set embodied by Rosicky and Mary and
another set represented by others. What are the values of each group?
VIII Explain how Cather uses flashbacks throughout the story. How do they contribute to the story’s
IX The story beings in early winter when “the first snow of the season” is falling. How is the oncoming of
winter related to Rosicky’s time of life? Why is spring a fitting season for the end of the story?
X Identify any particularly effective scene in the story and explain how Cather uses a specific literary device
to achieve or reinforce the scene’s effectiveness. Be sure to explain why the scene matters (how it
contributes to the plot, offers insight into a character, creates a particularly moving tone, etc. I’m thinking
of the graveyard scenes—either one—or the scene where Polly nurses Rosicky through his crisis, plus a
couple of others)