O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

With three of Willa Cather’s works now under my belt,  I suppose I cannot expect them  all to be equally magnificent and must declare that O Pioneers was not the creme de la creme it is purported to be.   Perhaps it is my love of the southwest that left me enthralled with Death Comes for the Archbishop and a little disappointed with this read.

So we have the Bergson family, with origins in Sweden, now farming the unpredictable terrains of Nebraska.  The eldest of four children, and the only daughter, is entrusted with safeguarding the family’s land when the father becomes seriously ill and dies soon after.  The family evolves and faces successes and tragedies as pioneers struggling to make their mark.

The woman in charge, Alexandra Bergson, is very stoic and lives only for her land and her family.  She is not afraid of learning nor of trying new ways to cultivate her land and her determination proves well worthwhile.  While denying herself any pleasure, she does not hesitate to lavish her youngest brother with clothing and a college education, perhaps giving her at least some vicarious pleasures.  She seemed to gravitate to the non-conformists and would not stand for seeing them treated poorly.  What nagged at me was her “blame the victim” mentality when she confronts the man responsible for a family tragedy.

Little brother Emil enjoys his privileges, while deeply resented by his older brothers.  He is carefree and is well liked by most of the townspeople (a little too much by one).  He becomes the rare college graduate, travels and eventually returns to those who still care for him and now admire him as well.  His free spiritedness is quashed when he finally gives in to the temptation that has been haunting him for years.

Neighbor and great friend to Alexandra, Carl Linstrum is a man unsure of his past, present and future.  He is greatly attracted to his neighbor, yet they never seem to find the opportune time to move beyond friendship and he moves away for an apprenticeship opportunity when his family’s farm fails.  He remains a loyal writer and keeps Alexandra up to date on his life.  He finally returns only to be bullied away by the elder Bergson brothers.  A little more backbone would have made this sensitive man a bit more likable.

My personal favorite, Crazy Ivar, is the town pariah.  He lives alone near a lake and roams barefoot, eating no meat, quoting the bible and having seizures on occasion.  He is sought out for his innate ability to treat a variety of animal ailments which has been the ability that has kept him from being sent to an asylum.  This was the character  I would have liked to read more of and  seemed to me, to be the wisest on the prairie.

Perhaps Ms. Cather could take me out to the plains where we could discuss her educational evolution from medicine to writing.  Her interesting life would lend itself to a variety of topics, but I’d still attempt to get her to share her keen insight into a multitude of psyches allowing for great writing.

My rating for O Pioneers  is an 8 out of 10.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Erskine Caldwell’s  God’s Little Acre


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