Book & Author
O Pioneers!: The first of Cather’s renowned prairie novels, O Pioneers! established a new voice in American literature–turning the stories of ordinary Midwesterners and immigrants into authentic literary characters.
O Pioneers! 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.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Published in 1913, 210 pages.
Willa Cather is one of the most important American novelists of the first half of the twentieth century. Seen as a regional writer for decades after her passing in 1947, critics have increasingly identified Cather as a canonical American writer, the peer of authors like Hemingway, Faulkner and Wharton. The author of 12 novels, 6 collections of short fiction, 2 editions of her book of poetry, April Twilights, and 9 works of nonfiction and collected journalism, speeches, and letters.
Born in Virginia in 1873, Cather settled in Webster County, Nebraska, in 1883. Though she lived the rest of her life in Pittsburgh and New York and traveled extensively, Cather’s depictions of the Nebraska prairie and farming communities were important milestones in American literature. “Miss Cather is Nebraska’s foremost citizen,” wrote author and Nobel Prize-winner Sinclair Lewis. “The United States knows Nebraska because of Willa Cather’s books.”
Quote from the book:
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. When I come back to it, I never have to remind it of anything; I begin just where I left off.
- What qualities must a person have to survive as a farmer in Nebraska in the 1870s? What qualities would hinder such survival in Cather’s point of view?
- Do you believe that Marie, by her beauty and vitality, caused her own tragedy? Do such women cause problems? If so, how?
- Alexandra is deeply tied to the land, and yet her greatest hope is for Emil to leave the farm and go to college, to have a personality apart from the soil. Why does Alexandra wish a different life for Emil?