- Paperback: 170 pages
- Publisher: Empire Books (October 27, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1619492776
- ISBN-13: 978-1619492776
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 155 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #22,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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<DIV>"A direct, human tale of love and struggle and attainment -- American in the best sense of the word." --New York Times The New York Times</div>
About the Author
<DIV>Born in Virginia in 1873 and raised on a Nebraska ranch, Willa Cather is known for her beautifully evocative short stories and novels about the American West. Cather became the managing editor for McClure s Magazine in 1906 and lived for forty years in New York City with her companion Edith Lewis. In 1922 Cather won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, the story of a Western boy in World War I. In 1933 she was awarded the Prix Femina Americaine for distinguished literary accomplishments. She died in 1947.
Photo: AKG London </div>
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This mini novel is the first in Willa Cather's Great Plains Trilogy and is the shortest of the three. The books are all different and can be read in any order; however, they all share a focus on the prairie landscape and on the women of this American frontier at the turn of the nineteenth century. The feminist component imbued in these stories was a trailblazer in its time.
The three books are as follows: O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Antoniá (1918).
O Pioneers! is set in the fictional town of Hanover, Nebraska, sometime between 1883 and 1890. It centers around the Bergsons, a family of Swedish immigrants who deal with both the hardships and triumphs of farming an untamed land with an uncertain future. The eldest daughter, Alexandra, is the central focus as she inherits the land—as well as the future of her three younger brothers-- when her father dies. She's a mere 20 yet embodies the true grit and vision it takes to deal with the unpredictability of nature and the risks of new ideas. This is a woman with convictions and she's determined to put in the effort and time it takes so her progeny will have better lives one day.
I think there are three things I loved most about this story.... watching the lives of immigrants transform as they reap the benefits of their hard-earned labor (particularly how the youngest brother has opportunities in education)... all the descriptive writing here... and the fact that it is centered around a woman of strength and intelligence who lives more for her land-related dreams than merely silly romance (not that's there's anything wrong with romance... I just love when historical females engage in something beyond their usual lot).
However, I think the novel is rather short and hasn't aged in the best way. Occasionally, I was bored. The narrative jumps 3 years into the future, and later, 16 years into the future. For me, the struggles that went down in those spaces would have been interesting to read about. Just not a lot of development here. The ending is also a bit of a downer but that's pioneer life for ya, I suppose… and I woulda probably hated it if it had a fairy tale ending anyway.
It also reads like a Young Adult novel and I am gonna shelve it as such. The language is fairly simple and plain (as are the people therein). I mean, it's also written in a very descriptive manner, which I always appreciate... but I can see why this trilogy is often found in schools (I read My Antoniá in high school yrs ago). It's historical but also very accessible for young minds. I could have read this one in junior high and understood it perfectly.
What's been especially interesting is reading about Willa Cather herself. Not just her own experiences with the American frontier or as a writer... but also her possible lifestyle/identification as a lesbian, or, some believe, even a transman. Fascinating!
Cather draws from the deep well of her own experience growing up on the Nebraska prairie, painting a nuanced portrait of the interplay among the ethnic groups that came seeking their fortunes- the Swedes, Norwegians, Bohemians and French. The interplay of triumph and tragedy makes for a powerful dramatic arc, and kept me reading far into the night to find out the fate of characters I had come to care about. Ninety-nine years after this story was first published, "O Pioneers" still speaks to the pioneer spirit that still stirs in many of us.
Toward rye end, however, the book becomes over dramatic and forced.
Typically I like science fiction like Frank Herbert, Anne Leckie, etc. This story was not highly suspenseful, but the characters were believable. The story was insightful, and painful at times in its sadness. I would recommend it to someone looking to gain insight into life.
Today the novels of Willa Cather are overlooked by many, just as I ignored them for years. However, this is a mistake. Written during the first 30 years of the 20th century, Cather's novels, My Antonia and O Pioneers are well crafted. Starting with My Antonia Willa Cather captures the immigrant experience on the Great Plains as they arrive from Europe, unprepared for the challenges of the pristine, undomesticated prairie. Cather provides us a glimpse of the land before farming and motivations of the immigrants.
In O Pioneers, Cather explores another immigrant community about 30 years later after My Antonia. Now they have tamed the prairie and are becoming successful farmers. There is a wistfulness in the older characters who remember the early days before the prairie disappeared.
These books reflect the time they were written both culturally and stylistically. The role of women is much different from today and the strong women characters attempt to live their lives as fully as they can. They are independent and self-sufficient which, at the time, reflected the growing strength of the suffragettes and the women's movement.
Similarly, environmental issues that we take for granted today weren't an issue to many then. Cather's books describe the motivation of the Great Plains farmers and foreshadow the calamity of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.