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O Pioneers! (Bantam Classic) Mass Market Paperback – March 1, 1989

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up—This work, written in 1913, was the first in Cather's "Great Plains" trilogy, and it was followed by The Song of the Lark and My Antonia. Strong-willed, intelligent Alexandra Bergson is the daughter of Swedish immigrants. She inherits her father's farmland instead of it being left to her brothers, Emil, Oscar, and Lou, because she has the vision and foresight to try new crops, buy additional lands, and take risks in order to reap future rewards. Cather's poetic and lyrical writing captures the Nebraska prairie and rolling hills. Using a variety of voices and capturing the dialects of the various immigrants who inhabit the novel, reader Betsy Bronson is impeccable. Her melodic voice imbues Cather's words with the sentiments of love, envy, jealousy, and peace that drive the story. This recording is delightful and leaves one with the understanding and appreciation that the land is always there for those who take time to truly see and appreciate it.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colleges, Mt. Carmel --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.


The land belongs to the future... that's the way it seems to me....I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it -- for a little while."

O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather's first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier -- and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather's heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra's devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself.

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels, O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

From the Trade Paperback edition. -- Review

Product Details

  • Series: Bantam Classic
  • Mass Market Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (March 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055321358X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553213584
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.5 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (270 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,239,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 138 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
Cather published her second novel, O Pioneers, in 1913 at the age of 40. Together with My Antonia it is the novel for which she is best known. Years after writing the book, Cather wrote of it " Since I wrote this book for myself, I ignored all the situations and accents that were then thought to be necessary."
The book takes place on the plains of Nebraska in the late 19th Century as the Prairie is settled be Swedish, Bohemian, and French immigrants trying to eke out a living from what appears to be a harsh, inhospitable land. The heroine of the book is Alexandra Bergson who inherits her father's farm as a young woman, raises his three sons and stays with the farm through the harsh times to become a successful landowner and farmer.
The books speaks of being wedded to the land and to place. In this sense it is an instance of the American dream of a home. It also speaks of a strong woman, not in cliched, late 20th Century terms but with a sense of ambiguity, difficulty and loss.
This is a story as well of thwarted love, of the difficult nature of sexualtiy, and of human passion. There is also the beginning of what in Cather's works will become an increased sense of religion, Catholicism in particular, as a haven and a solace for the sorrow she finds at the heart of human endeavor. Above all it is a picuure of stark life in the midwest.
There is almost as much blood-letting in this short book as in an Elizabethan tragedy. Cather's picture of American life on the plains, even in her earliest books, is not an easy or simple one. Some readers may quarrel with the seemingly happy ending of the book. I don't think any will deny that Alexandra's happiness is dearly bought or that it is bittersweet.
I tendend to shy away from this book in favor of Cather's later novels.
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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I think that Cather could not have crafted a more beautiful book. The writing and the story are so wholey lovely, without pomp or ceremony. An immigrant father bequeaths his land to the care of his daughter on his deathbed, rather than to his sons, because he sees that her love of the land and her family runs deep and that she has the heart and spirit necessary to survive the harsh reality of the plains. So begins one of the greatest love stories of all time. I don't use the term love story loosely; this book contains love in its many intricate, shifting, and enduring forms: the love of the land, the love of a dream, love within families, love of the past, love of tradition, love of new opportunities, love between friends, the love between men and women, and the love of living. This book gets deep under your fingernails, like the very earth that it celebrates. And though, many of the events recounted are sad, it is the kind of sadness that is rich in hope
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Mazza HALL OF FAME on October 30, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In "O Pioneers!", her classic novel first published in 1913, Willa Cather wrote, "The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman." By revealing to us the hearts of those pioneer immigrants in this book, Cather offers a moving meditation on United States culture and history.
"O Pioneers!" tells the story of a community in Nebraska farm country. Her main character, Alexandra Bergson, is a Swedish immigrant. Cather creates a marvelous portrait of the community and its rich mix of European ethnic groups: Norwegian, Swedish, French, etc. It is especially fascinating to see the multicultural, multiethnic world they created in the United States. Cather also depicts the cultural and linguistic "shift" that takes place along generational lines.
Cather's story deals with issues of economics, gender roles, and sexuality. In addition to the formidable Alexandra, she creates a cast of compelling characters. And her luminous prose style evokes all of the sensations of Alexandra's world: the smell of ripe wheat, the chirping of insects in the long grass, the golden play of light in an apple orchard.
But this is Alexandra's book. She is a great American heroine who reminds me of such beloved characters as Zora Neale Hurston's Janie (from "Their Eyes Were Watching God") or Alice Walker's Celie (from "The Color Purple"). Like those great characters, Alexandra will break your heart, deeply touch your soul, and ultimately leave you feeling richer for having known her.
Finally, as an interesting companion text to "O Pioneers!" try "Anna Christie," the 1922 play by U.S. writer Eugene O'Neill. O'Neill's life and career were contemporary with Cather's, and "Anna Christie," like "O Pioneers!", deals with a Swedish immigrant woman in the United States.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Barchi VINE VOICE on December 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
Some writers are identified with a particular country or region, others with a specific period in history. Willa Cather is known for both. When I think of her, I think of the prairie states, especially Nebraska, and I think of the days of the intrepid pioneers of the prairies, struggling to make a life for themselves that was tenuous, at best.

Although Cather spent only a few years of her childhood on the vast prairie lands of Nebraska, she returned to those memories again and again in her most powerful and famous fiction, such as My Antonia and The Song of the Lark.

The title of one of her celebrated novels, O Pioneers! is rather unique in that it has an exclamation point at the end of it. Think about it: how many other book titles do you know that have exclamation points? That sense of breathlessness, excitement, and fierce determination which is conveyed in the very look of the title O Pioneers! comes across from the very first pages of this novel.

This is the story of Alexandra Bergson and her family who risk everything they have to carve out a home in the unforgiving Nebraska landscape. Alexandra is forced at a very young age to take on the responsibility for her mother and brothers after her father dies. Before he dies, her father makes Alexandra, his most trusted child, promise to keep the farm and to make it thrive. This she does, although at a high personal cost.

The novel is a short one and moves quickly from decade to decade. It begins with a touching scene involving Alexandra's youngest brother Emil, whose stray kitten is rescued by Alexandra's best friend, Carl. The moment is a sweet one, and all ends well; but this is perhaps the only time in the book that we see problems so easily and satisfactorily resolved.
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