O Pioneers!
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O Pioneers!
Willa Cather
Literature
Aug 12, 2018
In Hanover, Nebraska, a Swedish immigrant dies and leaves his farm not to his sons, but to his daughter. Despite drought, economic depression, and the demands of the land the family inhabits, Alexandra Bergson, one of American literature’s most vivid heroines, is determined to make a success of the farm through ambitious expansion and diligent husbandry. Weathering the challenges posed by her brothers and by her loneliness as a frontierswoman, she navigates practical and emotional complexities by means of an inner compass that, if not unerring, is enduringly true, even when she loses sight of it. The first book in a trilogy of “prairie novels” that includes the equally rewarding The Song of the Lark and My Ántonia, O Pioneers! is the story of a woman who must learn what it means to come into her inheritance, just as it reveals the artistry of a writer who is discovering hers.
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Oct 28, 2018
I adore Willa Cather. Lucy Gayheart is one of my favorite classic novels.
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Nov 28, 2018
It has been ages, but I liked this more than I thought I would.
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Mar 27, 2019
Cather gives a voice to the prairie unlike any other writer. "O Pioneers!" is possibly her finest example of this.
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May 1, 2020
I was transfixed by Cather’s compact yet detailed language. I could imagine my opening shot for the movie (Exterior. Day. Grey kitten trapped atop a telegraph post. Snow and Wind.) How this cinematic novel was not made into a feature film is beyond me. Cather’s description of the prairie landscape and its changes over the seasons and years brings in all the senses. The heroine, Swedish immigrant Alexandra Bergson, is by far the strongest person in the book, leading her family to prosperity while facing the sexism of her less-intelligent brothers. Their greed and pride blocks her happiness. She dotes on her more enlightened younger brother who makes it to college. There’s a strong sense of community amongst the different immigrant cultures – the Swedes, the Bohemians (Czechs), the French - but there’s also deep isolation. Alexandra, unmarried, only has one friend living in the area. When she is youthful it’s Carl, but his family moves away. When she’s an adult, it’s the younger cheerful Marie who moves into Carl’s house. In this remote area, it is startling to read references to phone calls. It’s tricky to pull quotes out of context to give you some flavor, but here are a few: I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do. I feel as if this tree knows everything I ever think of when I sit here. p. 153 A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves. p.48 Freedom often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. P. 122 (this is part of beautiful conversation about freedom vs. responsibility between Alexandra and Carl) Alexandra remembered that day as one of the happiest in her life. Years afterward she thought of the duck as still there, swimming and diving all by herself in the sunlight, a kind of enchanted bird that did not know age or change. p.205 (The book has a duck theme). There is an immense tragedy. I will only tell you that the lead up has a brilliant depiction of a mind going into disassociation, temporary insanity. But at the end, Alexandra finds an important happiness.
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