Title: O Pioneers
Author: Willa Cather
No. of Pages: 230
First Released: 1913
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Alexandra Bergson, a young Swedish immigrant girl who inherits her fathers farm and must transform it from raw prairie into a prosperous enterprise, is the first of Cathers great heroinesall of them women of strong will and an even stronger desire to overcome adversity and succeed. But the wild land itself is an equally important character in Cathers books, and her descriptions of it are so evocative, lush, and moving that they provoked writer Rebecca West to say of her: ‘The most sensuous of writers, Willa Cather builds her imagined world almost as solidly as our five senses build the universe around us.'”
Comments and Critique: Willa Cather has a way with the English language. Stark, simplistic and yet utterly poetic in its descriptions. Just like the Nebraska farmland, on the surface O Pioneers appears sparse and flat. However, just like Alexandra, the reader so determines that there is an unspoken depth and beauty to the story that requires care and thought.
O Pioneers is not just about living on a Nebraska farm. Rather, it is about pushing the envelope, about living life the way you want to live it without worrying about social decorum, about love. Life may be harsh, and there is plenty to remind the reader of that fact with death, loneliness, and unhappiness around every corner. Still, in Alexandra, Ms. Cather created a heroine that not only challenged women’s rights, but she also broke ground on the idea of the necessity of finding love to be happy. While flawed, with her inability to relate to human emotions, she champions the idea of equality – in life and in love. By successfully growing her father’s farm, she proves that women are just as capable of managing the land as a man. By not getting married, she epitomizes the idea that a woman does not have to be a wife to be happy. Through other examples, Ms. Cather shows that only equality matters in a marriage or else the marriage will be an unhappy one. It is is a lesson that carries over into other aspects of life.
O Pioneers is not a long novel, and the simple nature of the words means that most people can breeze through the novel in a relatively short period of time. It presents a fascinating picture of life in the great plains at the turn of the century, and one can get a clear image of the hardships endured to scrabble a life from the soil. However, a reader should take his or her time reading to pick up on the subtle lessons Ms. Cather presents through Alexandra, Carl, Frank, Emil and Marie because they are more important than any description of farm living. If you love classics and have not yet added Willa Cather to your repertoire, I highly recommend checking out O Pioneers for these lessons and historical picture.
I read this many years ago, when first married, so this will count as part of the Flashback Challenge. For the FTC, this book has been in my possession for over a decade, well before any of us had ever heard of blogging.