Book 3 Chapter 3
3. The Rock
Summary: Latour and Jacinto ride to Ácoma across a great mesa plain. The pueblo itself sits atop one of the mesas. In Ácoma, Latour celebrates Mass in a church that reminds him more of a fortress for people who remind him more of ancient antediluvian creatures.
Analysis: Latour is first exposed to “the mesa country” in this chapter: a stark and majestic place, its grandeur well captured in Cather’s lyrical prose: “The great tables of granite set down in an empty plain were inconceivable without their attendant clouds, which were a part of them, as the smoke is part of the censer, or the foam of the wave” (p. 95). It is, simply put, sacred space. Much of its sacred nature derives from the fact that the ancient natives sought shelter atop the great mesas, as Latour reflects: “these Indians, born in fear and dying by violence for generations, had at last taken this leap away from the earth, and on that rock had found the hope of all suffering and tormented creatures—safety” (p. 97). Latour of course makes the connections to the biblical image of God as a protecting Rock (e.g., 2 Sam. 22:3; Psalm 28:1): the ancient Hebrews’ “rock was an idea of God, the only thing their conquerors could not take from them” (p. 97). But the fact that the Indians literally escaped the earth by climbing toward heaven heightens the impression of the mesa country as a place of transcendence. What other cultures have expressed metaphorically, the Ácomas have experienced literally: “Already the Bishop had observed in Indian life a strange literalness, often shocking and disconcerting… they had their idea [of safety] in substance. They actually lived upon their Rock” (pp. 97-98). In the mesa country, then, metaphors become concrete, and the spiritual becomes a material reality.