The Professor's House

The Professor's House Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4, Section 2: "Tom Outland's Story"

Blake and Outland visit the Mesa together for the first time in May. They climb up to the Cliff City through the box canyon and find a grassless courtyard in front of all the buildings. The buildings are made of stones and wood covered with adobe and are in good condition. The men find mats on the floors and pottery.

There are 30 dwellings in addition to the tower, and a back courtyard in the rear of the cavern with a spring. Also in the area are a number of water jars, one of which was the piece of pottery Outland gave Lillian, grinding stones, clay ovens, charred bones, corncobs, dried beans, seeds, tools and charcoal.

The second time the two men explore the mesa, they find a trail leading from the Cliff City to the top of the mesa then down onto the plain. They bring in men from Tarpin, the railroad city nearest the Blue Mesa, to excavate the trail and build them a cabin on top of the Mesa. Bill Hook, the man who owns the Tarpin livery, helped them a great deal during this time with supplies and men from the city.

By July, Blake and Outland and Atkins move into the cabin on the Mesa and begin their excavations and archaeological expeditions in earnest. They collect specimens and write up accounts of each find and each day’s activities.

They discover clothes, surgical instruments, and various artistic touches that lead them to believe that the cliff dwellers were a highly deliberate and artistic people. They wonder what happened to them.

They find four mummies, one of a young woman who had been murdered via a wound in her side, who they name Mother Eve, and three others who were old people prepared for burial.

Outland makes an offhand comment at the end of this chapter to the effect that an archaeologist would have made a great deal of the remains he and his friends found, but that an archaeologist never saw them.


The affinity between the Professor and Tom Outland has been evident from the beginning of the novel; both men are highly intelligent, wedded to their work, passionate about beauty and history, and of a similar taciturn cast of mind when it comes to human relationships.

Critics, in some cases, have taken this equation to great lengths, and this chapter provides ample material for these lengths. Scholars have pointed out that the Professor’s study and Outland’s Cliff City are both places of study, and are both elevated above spaces that most people inhabit.

Some critics have even gone so far as to compare Mother Eve to the Professor, in that both are comparatively young to be dead or thinking of death (as the Professor later is) and both are reluctant to leave their homes (the Professor is firmly entrenched in his old house and Mother Eve is destroyed later when Blake attempts to move her later in the tale). In addition, Mother Eve has been compared to the second dress-form in the Professor’s work-room in that both have ribs that are sticking out and both appear to be young, flighty women.

Outland and Blake’s dubbing of the young mummy Mother Eve invokes the Biblical Garden of Eden; Mother Eve is the first mummy they find and she must also seem like the first and original woman of the Blue Mesa. This comparison indicates yet another manifestation of Cather’s philosophy that transcendent art can sustain its own religion; the Mesa is no less sacred to Outland than Eden is to a Christian.

On first glance, however, modern readers could be forgiven for recoiling from Outland’s easy appropriation of the Mesa ruins and artifacts as his and Blake’s personal property to be moved, studied, and generally messed about at will. Outland no doubt feels reverence for the site and its artifacts, but he behaves as if it is his personal playground. What makes feel entitled to disturb the ruins that have lain for centuries untouched? Curiosity? Reverence for art? His genius? His simple wish to? A belief in “finders keepers” taken to an extreme?

The explanation for this may lie in the era. In Cather’s time, the Mesa Verde site had been widely ransacked for decades for artifacts and the Wetherills and others conducted private tours of the ruins. There seems to have been far less respect for these types of archaeological discoveries during the turn of the century than there would be today.