Hannah Scribbles

why you should meander through “O Pioneers”

In Career on April 10, 2011 at 10:49 am

Willa Cather’s novel “O Pioneers” transports you through time into the untamed prairies of the West and into the heart of the men and women who first conquered the wilderness with their plows. It is a story of sacrifice, of love lost and of resilience in the face of sorrow.

The story follows the life of young immigrant Alexandra Bergson as she takes over the family farm upon her father’s death.  She faces resistance from her two brothers Oscar and Lou, who are ashamed of standing out from other farmers and of their origins, and criticism from the surrounding landowners.  Alexandra, in her endeavors to raise her youngest brother, Emil, into a man not burdened by the soil, puts aside her personal happiness.

The novel faces criticism for its meandering plotline and lack of typical conflict-resolution formatting.  That flaw, however, is its brilliance.  The story flows in waves and lulls of action, weaving the scenery into a character that develops alongside the pioneers that work it and changes with every springtime, birth or death.  It follows the path of real life rather than a constructed formula, which is part of the poetry in the words.

Cather captures the mentality of the characters exquisitely, detailing the pain and happiness of their rugged existence with sincerity.  You can neither grieve nor smile entirely for Alexandra or her family, because each person is uniquely flawed.  Their choices live with them and are as complete a character as the backdrop against which they live their lives.

It was a beautiful book.  Read it.


  1. […] 6.      “O Pioneers!” by Willa Cather. Is it a classic?  The book itself looks worn and old… […]

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