O Pioneers! by Willa Cather


Goodreads: O Pioneers!
Series: Great Plains Trilogy #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1913

Official Summary

(From the Penguin Classics edition)

The first of her renowned prairie novels, O Pioneers! expresses Cather’s conviction that “the history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.”

When Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, takes over the family farm after her father’s death, she falls under the spell of the rich, forbidding Nebraska prairie. With strength and resoluteness, she turns the wild landscape into orderly fields. Born of Cather’s early ties to the prairie and to the immigrants who tamed the land,¬†O Pioneers!¬†established a new territory in American literature when it was first published in 1913. In her transformation of ordinary Americans into authentic literary characters, Cather discovered her own voice, exploring themes that would reverberate in her later works.

Star Divider


I wasn’t really sure what O Pioneers! was supposed to be about before I began, and now that I’ve finished, I’m tempted to say it’s not about much at all. Ostensibly it’s about protagonist Alexandra Bergson, but the story skips over the years of her life I personally would have found most interesting, the years where she turned a patch of land inherited from her father into a thriving and ever-expanding farm simply through her perseverance and intelligence, dragging her brothers along with her when they didn’t want to go. Since that’s all glossed over, however, I was left with a story where Alexandra seems unhappy in spite of all her accomplishments, and the whole thing was rather bland and depressing.

One could argue the main character is the land, an area where people initially struggled to get by and many gave up and returned to the cities, but which eventually grows into a profitable and enviable place to live. Alexandra seems to understand the land better than many, making her a sympathetic character one wants to see succeed. However, I personally can’t love a book simply by thinking the setting is interesting, almost a character unto itself. And the rest of the story is just lacking.

The characters I liked most fade in and out of the story, and terrible things seem to happen to them in spite of their best efforts, and overall I was just bored. Since this is a classic, I am sure some random commenter I’ve never seen on the blog before will pop out of nowhere to tell me I didn’t really understand the book because really it’s a gripping piece of genius, but I just didn’t find it interesting. I’m sure if I read it for school I could come up with something to write a paper about relating to the land or the lack of optimism where it appears optimism should be, but since I was just reading this for fun and didn’t really enjoy it, I will not be reading anything else by the author.