This article investigates the hermeneutic ethics implied by Cather's characterization of Death Comes for the Archbishop as a “light touch.” By paying particular attention to the parallels between the smooth objects within the text and Cather's “smooth” narrative form—a mode of structural parataxis—the analysis considers the ways Cather interrogates the power and potential of the reader to mark the other and inscribe him or herself upon the text through interpretation. This rhetorical frame is then employed in order to contemplate how Cather dramatizes ethical intercultural contact between her Catholic protagonist and the Indigenous peoples that populate the novel's nineteenth-century Southwestern setting.

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