O Pioneers!

by Willa Cather

Paperback, 1988

Call number

FIC CAT

Collection

Genres

Publication

Houghton Mifflin Company (1988), Edition: Houghton -Mifflan 1988 Edition, First printing.

Description

Cather presents the story of the Nebraska prairie. Alexandra Bergson, daughter of Swedish immigrant farmers, is devoted to the land and suffers the hardships of prairie life.

Media reviews

There isn't a vestige of 'style' as such: for page after page one is dazed at the ineptness of the medium and the triviality of the incidents...

User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Willa Cather’s poetic novel, O Pioneers! tells two love stories that take place on the Nebraska tableland in the late 1800’s. Feisty, intelligent, independent, bigger-than-life Alexandra Bergson embodies the true frontier woman who could do it all. When her father dies, he leaves the farm for her to run rather than her two older brothers. John Bergson knows that his daughter’s management skills will make the farm successful. When she buys up the properties of other families, who give up on the plains and return to steady jobs in the city, she assures both the future of her family’s interests and the wrath of her brothers. But something is missing in Alexandra’s life that the land cannot fulfill. Her love interest is childhood friend, Carl Linstrum, who has chosen to leave the Nebraska homeland of his Swedish ancestors to look for something that’s missing in his life, only to find that he won’t fulfill his dreams in the city either:

“Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, the parks, in the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.” (Page 123)

Alexandra’s younger brother Emil holds all her dreams. She sees to it that he gets a college education and has great hopes for his future. But his wandering spirit belies his illicit love that leads to the startling climax.

Cather leaves no doubt that this is a novel about the great pioneer spirit that built our country and the lure and love of the land that was so inherent in those early settlers. But she also makes it clear that the land is bigger than any individual and, try as they might, they will never control it. Most of the characters in the story are unhappy with their marriages and their lives in general. In the hands of a less skillful writer, this would have come across as heavy-handed but Cather is a genius who helps us to see that these pioneering spirits were just human, just like you and me, and the relentlessly grim conditions of their lives left little else for them.
Short, sweet, poetic and powerful and highly recommended
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
Willa Cather sets a scene like nobody else. How can you not be completely hooked after reading a passage like this:

Although it was only four o'clock, the winter day was fading. The road led southwest, toward the streak of pale, watery light that glimmered in the leaden sky. The light fell upon the two sad young faces that were turned mutely toward it: upon the eyes of the girl, who seemed to be looking with such anguished perplexity into the future; upon the sombre eyes of the boy, who seemed already to be looking into the past. The little town behind them had vanished as if it had never been, had fallen behind the swell of the prairie, and the stern frozen country received them into its bosom. The homesteads were few and far apart; here and there a windmill gaunt against the sky, a sod house crouching in a hollow. But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this fast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

Alexandra Bergson is the strong, independent daughter of Swedish immigrants settled in Nebraska. She is confident and knowledgeable, and despite having two older brothers, quickly assumes leadership of the farm. Alexandra builds it into a successful venture while also raising her youngest brother Emil, ensuring he has a level of education that gives him options as an adult. Alexandra cares for her family and neighbors, but her independent nature means she has few close friends. Her social needs are met through the chatter of young Swedish girls hired for cooking and other domestic services, and visits with Marie Shabata, a young farmer’s wife living nearby.

O Pioneers! paints a vivid picture of prairie life over about two decades in the late 19th century. I became fully vested in the lives of Alexandra, Emil, Marie, and others. The story ambles along gently through the seasons and the years. But don’t be fooled by these easy rhythms: there’s an emotional current underpinning this story, which Cather taps to deliver an emotional punch that I had not anticipated, and which vaulted this book from “just another farming story” to something much more meaningful.… (more)
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
O Pioneers! is a love story with a twist. While Alexandra Bergson has great affection for her household and neighbors, the love of her life is the Nebraska prairie farmland settled by her Swedish immigrant family. Alexandra's spirit is as expansive as the land, while her two oldest brothers are small-minded and unimaginative. Alexandra finds kindred spirits in her youngest brother, Emil, her neighbor, Carl Linstrum, and her neighbor, Bohemian Marie Shabata. Cather's writing has a timelessness that conveys the enthusiasm of youth, and both the hope and risk of homesteading. I listened to this one on audio, and I thought it enhanced my experience of the book. The reader's precise, unrushed delivery perfectly matched Alexandra's personality. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member lkernagh
I should probably start off this review by admitting that I have not been reading Cather’s Prairie Trilogy in order, having read My Antonia around this time last year. Cather’s strength – IMO anyways – is her wonderfully descriptive prose. She knew how to paint a picture with words! Like My Antonia, Oh Pioneers! gives readers a strong female protagonist, this time in Alexandra Bergson, the eldest child of a Swedish immigrant family who takes over the running of the family farm when the father dies. Like other women in Cather’s stories, Alexandra is an individual with grit and determination, valuable characteristics to have to survive and thrive in the American frontier of the early nineteenth century. Alexandra faces family struggles as her younger brothers side with societal views of the time period and feel that it is inappropriate for Alexandra to be free to do as she pleases, so very much a story about a woman claiming her rights outside of the bounds of traditional social norms of the time period. While a short novel – more a novella – the story only hits a couple of stutters/lurches to the otherwise even flow of the story.

A common theme I have found in the Cather stories I have read so far is her ability to communicate to the reader the spiritual connection of land and people. Her characters are grounded, driven with a purpose and not flighty as one might find in some other novels. For me, the high points of this story are the strong female protagonist, the mosaic of immigrant characters from the “old country” that would have populated the American frontier of the time period and Cather’s wonderful, descriptive prose, written in plain, accessible language.
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LibraryThing member varwenea
With a title purportedly named after the Walt Whitman poem, Willa Cather takes us to the memories of her youth in the plains of Nebraska where her family moved when she was 9 in 1882. The nearly uninhabitable environment of the land combined with a harsh uprooting at a tender age left a strong mark on this author, including cutting her hair short and dressing as a boy in her youth. Selfishly, I’m glad of her past as she certainly wrote a gem in the 1913 novel of O Pioneers! Perhaps it’s my own city life surrounded by ‘first world problems’, I thoroughly enjoyed the difficult though simple life in Part I – The Wild Land. Ms. Cather’s love of the land radiates in this: “…Her face was so radiant that he felt shy about asking her. For the first time, perhaps, since that land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning. It seemed beautiful to her, rich and strong and glorious. Her eyes drank in the breadth of it, until her tears blinded her. Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.”

Also in Part I, consider this sentence in our tech-flooded world - “A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.” Sometimes, it’s the journey (or design process) that brings amazement, rather than the destination (or a new gadget).

The book’s leading lady, Alexandra Bergson, is intelligent, ambitious, direct, and… lonely. Entrusted with the modest family farm upon her father’s death when she was ~20, she used her brains and a lot of guts to guide her family through the tough years, eventually building the biggest homestead in the Divide, sharing it in thirds when two of her brothers, Oscar and Lou, married. ‘Entrusted’ and ‘Burdened’ are two sides of the same coin as she cared for the land, the farm, and most importantly, her youngest brother, Emil. Like all immigrant families, she worked to give Emil the most precious gift – the gift of choice.

The book continues in 4 additional parts. Alexandra was troubled by the disagreements with Oscar and Lou over her potential love for Carl, a childhood friend, and by their accusations that her land does not belong to her and that she didn’t do any ‘work’. (I wanted so much to smack her brothers writing multiple !!! throughout the pages.) The second major story arc is Emil and his secret, growing love for Marie, also a childhood friend but now unhappily married. This love ends tragically. And I was thoroughly agitated with Alexandra, where “She blamed Marie bitterly.” What?!? Emil wooed her too!

Despite my disagreement over this element, I found the book to be moving and relatable 101 years later. Nice.

Some Quotes:

On Commanding Attention and Conflict Management – I love how these simple methods were used:
“Alexandra looked down the table from one to another. ‘Well, the only way we can find out is to try. Lou and I have different notions about feeding stock, and that’s a good thing. It’s bad if all the members of a family think alike. They never get anywhere. Lou can learn by my mistakes and I can learn by his. Isn’t that fair, Barney?’”

On Life:
“Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.”

On Freedom – I feel this way more often than I care to admit:
“Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere.”

On City Life:
“…in the cities, there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him. Our landlady and the delicatessen man are our mourners, and we leave nothing behind us but a frock-coat and a fiddle, or an easel, or a typewriter, or whatever tool we got our living by. All we have ever managed to do is to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet of space near the heart of things. We have no house, no place, no people of our own. We live in the streets, in the parks, in theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.”

On Age – argh:
From Emil: “There was trouble enough in the world, he reflected…,without people who were forty years old imagining they wanted to get married.”

On Winter:
“…The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever.”

On Gifts – I love presents (and enjoying giving them too). I found Emil entirely charming here towards Marie:
“Emil laughed shortly. ‘People who want such little things surely ought to have them,’ he said dryly. He thrust his hand into the pocket of his velvet trousers and brought out a handful of uncut turquoises, as big as marbles. Leaning over the table he dropped them into her lap. ‘There, will those do? Be careful, don’t let any one see them. Now, I suppose you want me to go away and let you play with them?’”

On First Kiss – hmmm, yum:
“… Little shrieks and currents of soft laughter ran up and down the dark hall. Marie started up, – directly into Emil’s arms. In the same instant she felt his lips. The veil that had hung uncertainly between them for so long was dissolved. Before she knew what she was doing, she had committed herself to that kiss that was at once a boy’s and a man’s, as timid as it was tender… And Emil, who had so often imagined the shock of this first kiss, was surprised at its gentleness and naturalness. It was like a sigh which they had breathed together; almost sorrowful, as if each were afraid of wakening something in the other.”

On Death – my heart broke a little and yet felt touching at the same time:
“…From that spot there was another trail, heavier than the first, where she must have dragged herself back to Emil’s body. Once there, she seemed not to have struggled any more. She had lifted her head to her lover’s breast, taken his hand in both her own, and bled quietly to death. She was lying on her right side in an easy and natural position, her cheek on Emil’s shoulder. On her face there was a look of ineffable content. Her lips were parted a little; her eyes were lightly closed, as if in a day-dream or a light slumber. After she lay down there, she seem not to have moved an eyelash. The hand she held was covered with dark stains, where she had kissed it.”

On the Desire for love and for being care for – I think it’s in all of us:
Alexandra – “ As she lay with her eyes closed, she had again, more vividly than for many years, the old illusion of her girlhood, of being lifted and carried lightly by some one very strong. He was with her a long while this time, and carried her very far, and in his arms she felt free from pain.”
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LibraryThing member susiesharp
Last year I read My Antonia and absolutely loved it and vowed to read more Willa Cather, her writing is so straight forward and real she is such a true talent. There is nothing flashy in this book it is just the story of a family, how they get through the day, and the hardships they go through.

I liked that the head of the family was the daughter and not the sons that the father was forward thinking enough that he left the farm to his daughter and left her in charge. Then when the brothers decide they don’t like this arraignment oh they made me mad! Poor Marie and Emil, and the aftermath for Alexandra and the life not lived.

One thing about Willa Cather not everyone gets a happy ending and I like that because it is true to life not everyone gets a happy ending!

I will end here there are plenty of reviews for this book so I will just say if you like a simple story of life told beautifully try Willa Cather.
4 Stars
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I picked this up at a used book sale with no idea who wrote it (me: under rock) or what it was about other than it was considered a "classic". I was expecting a pleasant story for young adults on the level of Little House of the Prairie but was delightfully surprised to find serious adult literature that is easy to read. Stylistically it is American Realism with an emphasis on what it was like as a pioneer in Nebraska - this was the "boring part" at the beginning many people didn't like but I loved for the many small details of daily farm life. Cather said of its realism: "I decided not to 'write' at all, - simply to give myself up to the pleasure of recapturing in memory people and places I'd forgotten". And at first this is what it feels like, a novel as an excuse to reminisce about what it used to be like in the "old days" (say, 20 or 40 years prior). Cather's positive ecological message is also refreshing in a book this old and as important as ever. The books drab humorless tone - practical to a fault - artistically conveys the Norwegian pioneer world, but I hope not all her books are about Norwegians! I'm delighted to have this introduction to Willa Cather and look forward to reading more by her, she even has 3 volumes in the Library of America series.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Cather’s first novel follows one family over decades as they settle the great plains of Nebraska. The heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who comes to the prairie near Hanover, NE, as the only girl in a family of brothers. Yet it is Alexandra who grows up to take over the farm from her father and ensure the family’s prosperity.

I loved Alexandra, despite her blind spots. This is a strong woman! Her love of the land is evident, but she is no romantic. Her eyes are wide open to potential disasters, but her shrewd instinct and even handedness in the way she husbands resources and manages both the land and the farm workers help her avoid disaster and recover from set-backs.

In addition, Alexandra is also completely dedicated to her family and to helping her younger brother, in particular, achieve his dreams. Her devotion, however, comes with a price, and she foregoes more than one chance at her own personal happiness. And yet, the story encompasses triumph as well as tragedy.

Cather’s writing is gloriously descriptive. I can smell the scent of freshly turned earth, hear the animals, feel the dusty grit. Her work evokes in me a kind of nostalgia for a simpler time, and at the same time, great relief that I do not have to perform that hard work today.
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LibraryThing member Booker13
Hmmm....being a chemist in college I never had to read this book as part of a scholastically driven forced march. That being said, I picked this up in St. Charles on a whim and when I finished it I was pleasantly surprised. I'd expected a celebration of mother earth (which was in there) or a hymn to nature (which is there too), but I got a dark tale of late requited illicit love between Marie Shabata and Emil, adultery and murder. Touché Willa!… (more)
LibraryThing member dickmanikowski
Somehow, I managed to make it through 64 years of life and an MA in American Literature without ever having read any of Willa Cather's novels. So I picked up O PIONEERS and found it to be very good. Cather shows the same passion for the American landscape that John Steinbeck does, but in a less flowery manner.
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
This is probably the fourth or fifth Cather novel I have read. I cannot say it is my favorite, probably because the plot was not nearly as engaging as it was in her later works. However, I don't think anyone captures the essence of the American plains like Cather can. Her protagonist in this book is basically an incarnation of mother earth herself. At one point, Alexandra recounts the history of the farm and says the wheat only flourished when the land was ready. For Alexandra, life is much the same. She was not ready for love until she had fully matured. There were several characters who were quite engaging; Alexandra's brother, Emil and Ivar, the man of nature, along with Marie the beautiful butterfly of a woman comprise a very interesting cast of characters. It was a really good read, but just not as marvelous as Cather's future works.… (more)
LibraryThing member WilfGehlen
Days on the Divide / Spring, summer, autumn, winter, . . . / O Alexandra!

As the eyes are the windows on the soul, Cather allows us to look into her eyes to see the Nebraska plains as it has touched her soul. It is a land of beautiful sunrise and sunset, clear blue skies above, reflected below in a still duck pond. It is also, at times, a harsh land of freezing cold winter and drought-stricken summer. You can love the land without it giving back enough to sustain you. But if you understand the land, it yields a material wealth almost beyond measure.

Alexandra Bergson understood the land. She knew to plant alfalfa to fix the nitrogen in the soil, to plant wheat as well as corn, to build silos against the inconstancy of the land. She sought out ideas which fostered her understanding and worked the land hard to bear out the promise of the idea. She had to: of John Bergson's children, only she had the native ability, so she received his legacy to make the land provide for the family.

Her success served to drive a wedge between herself and others, so that she was estranged from her brothers, Lou and Oscar. Moreover, her pioneer struggles left her little time to think of her personal needs and desires. At times when she was not totally exhausted, on a Sunday morning, when such thoughts might creep into her consciousness, she would strike them down with cold ablutions in her bath. This left a blind spot in her through which two of those she loved, brother Emil and his married lover, Marie, fell to their deaths.

Alexandra still had the land and all that it meant to her, but had no one to share it with, not even anyone to pass it on to. There was only her childhood friend, Carl, but he was estranged from the land and making a life for himself in far away Alaska. So she dreams of a man in a white cloak who will carry her away. Like Don Fabrizio's woman in brown and Joe Gideon's woman in white, Alexandra's man in white was her guide, her pilot to crossing the bar. Carl returned to her in time to pull her back onto the quay.

In an earlier episode, when Carl tried and failed to re-enter her life, he said of Marie and her husband, "there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before..." It may have been Shaw who delineated these (two) stories as Jack and the Beanstalk (The Quest) and Cinderella (Boy Meets Girl). Alexandra and Carl were each on their separate quests to make their own life, hers more successful but still with a tragic flaw. Together now, it is time for their story, and, as Alexandra says, "it is we who write it, with the best we have."
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LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Set on the Nebraska prairie where Willa Cather (1873–1947) grew up, this powerful early novel tells the story of the young Alexandra Bergson, whose dying father leaves her in charge of the family and of the lands they have struggled to farm. In Alexandra's long flight to survive and succeed, O Pioneers! relates an important chapter in the history of the American frontier.

Evoking the harsh grandeur of the prairie, this landmark of American fiction unfurls a saga of love, greed, murder, failed dreams, and hard-won triumph. In the fateful interaction of her characters, Willa Cather compares with keen insight the experiences of Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants in the United States. And in her absorbing narrative, she displays the virtuoso storytelling skills that have made her one of the most admired masters of the American novel.

My Review: Simple, unadorned prose gets very wearing when it's also missing some basic character-building. In 122pp, it's not possible to do a Proustian job of lovingly explaining why people are who they are. But [The Picture of Dorian Gray], also a shortie, has the most gorgeously subtle character-building; [Mrs. Dalloway] is another example; so one concludes that Cather just wasn't interested in Lou or Oscar or the French neighbors.

As a moment in time, the book is invaluable. A concise slice of the life led by the crazy dreamers who decided the Old Country was no longer enough for them and their kids, packed what they could afford to carry, and vamoosed for the New World.

There is a private society that's trying to get together a colony of people with all the talents necessary to keep themselves alive on Mars. It's a one-way ticket...just like the pioneers of old.

How I wish I was young and healthy. I'd be on that rocket in a heartbeat.
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LibraryThing member jmchshannon
Willa Cather has a way with the English language. Stark, simplistic and yet utterly poetic in its descriptions. Just like the Nebraska farmland, on the surface O Pioneers appears sparse and flat. However, just like Alexandra, the reader so determines that there is an unspoken depth and beauty to the story that requires care and thought.

O Pioneers is not just about living on a Nebraska farm. Rather, it is about pushing the envelope, about living life the way you want to live it without worrying about social decorum, about love. Life may be harsh, and there is plenty to remind the reader of that fact with death, loneliness, and unhappiness around every corner. Still, in Alexandra, Ms. Cather created a heroine that not only challenged women's rights, but she also broke ground on the idea of the necessity of finding love to be happy. While flawed, with her inability to relate to human emotions, she champions the idea of equality - in life and in love. By successfully growing her father's farm, she proves that women are just as capable of managing the land as a man. By not getting married, she epitomizes the idea that a woman does not have to be a wife to be happy. Through other examples, Ms. Cather shows that only equality matters in a marriage or else the marriage will be an unhappy one. It is is a lesson that carries over into other aspects of life.

O Pioneers is not a long novel, and the simple nature of the words means that most people can breeze through the novel in a relatively short period of time. It presents a fascinating picture of life in the great plains at the turn of the century, and one can get a clear image of the hardships endured to scrabble a life from the soil. However, a reader should take his or her time reading to pick up on the subtle lessons Ms. Cather presents through Alexandra, Carl, Frank, Emil and Marie because they are more important than any description of farm living. If you love classics and have not yet added Willa Cather to your repertoire, I highly recommend checking out O Pioneers for these lessons and historical picture.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy’s mouth had become so bitter, because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

The prairie is almost its own character in Cather's novels. This story follows the swedish Bergson family. The main character, the girl Alexandra, is the only one who really understands the potential of the prairie to make a living. She studies and learn from the few wise people around her and her industriousness pays off.

Another beautiful prairie-story from Cather. There’s such and aching and longing for love and belonging in Alexandra as she grows up and becomes an independent land owner. You just want her to find happiness and love. You have to wait quite a bit, but it’s all worth it.

Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
This book has two of my favorite things - beautiful writing and a strong female protagonist. Alexandra Bergson is put in charge of her family's farm after her father dies, despite the fact that she has two older brothers. She has a head for business, and she loves the land. Life is not always easy for Alexandra. She focuses on her farm and has few close friends. When describing her memory of a duck on a pond, Cather notes, "Most of Alexandra's happy memories were as impersonal as this one; yet to her they were very personal. Her mind was a white book, with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things."

In telling Alexandra's story, Cather is able to let her love for Nebraska shine through as well. Her descriptions of the land and the seasons are vivid. I captured several of these, but perhaps because I'm reading this in the midst of a cold snap, this one stood out:

"Winter has settled down over the Divide again; the season in which Nature recuperates, in which she sinks to sleep between the fruitfulness of autumn and the passion of spring. . . One could easily believe that in the dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever."
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LibraryThing member spoko
Having tried and failed to read My Antonia a couple of times, I didn't expect to like this book a lot. So I was shocked when I started to love it. Cather's prose is tight, and her characters are gracefully drawn. Even an eccentric like Ivar doesn't get the Faulkner treatment; these people appear in strokes, gradually, and they are all the more real for it. I was enraptured by this book, almost all the way to the end. [It does really start to unravel in the final exchange between Alexandra and Carl--I don't know what that was in the service of, exactly.]… (more)
LibraryThing member fleurdiabolique
The book starts out VERY slowly -- as in, the first half of it is not particularly engrossing reading. After those first two sections, I put it down thinking that it was just a bunch of sketches of vaguely connected scenes, with no overarching plot, and that Cather gave us no reason to care about the overly-stereotypical characters at all. But the novel really picks up in the second half. I can't quite put my finger on what changes, beyond the introduction of more lasting conflict and of something more approaching an actual story. I'm not sure that that's all that is different. Whatever it is, though, most of the end of the book is quite affecting. I do have quibbles with the book: the first half could be condensed so that the reader doesn't have to slog through so many apparently-random, somewhat dull scenes; the gist of many of the characters' longer speeches that show their interior thoughts could be gotten across to us in their actions rather than making us read stilted, artificial dialogue; and I am frankly disgusted by the judgments that Alexandra and the novel make regarding Emil's and Maria's fates. Nevertheless, this isn't a bad read. It's worth picking up for Cather's beautiful prose and for the story of the book's second half. I give it 3 1/2 stars overall, though if the first half of the book had been handled better this easily would've been at least a 4.… (more)
LibraryThing member dczapka
Willa Cather's novel, I feel, may suffer a bit from temporal detachment: after 100 years and a far less wild, agrarian American landscape than the Nebraska of her book, the appeal of the novel may have fallen off a bit, which is probably why I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

The story revolves around the fortunes of the Bergson family, particularly Alexandra, the eldest, who attempts to hold the family's fortunes together after the death of her father. As a woman, she faces many struggles throughout her tenure as a landowner -- not the least of which are her two younger, impatient brothers who, for all intents and purposes, disown her. The novel does treat her, however, with a surprising amount of intelligence and business acumen throughout.

The problem is that Cather's descriptions focus more on the condition of the land at particular points than it does on the struggles of making it in the untamed West. Domesticity prevails, and while that makes for some exciting reading later in the text (during Emil's ill-fated affair with a married neighbor), the staidness of the narrative, even in light of the excellent descriptions of the landscape, simply dulls the novel of its impact.

Because of this, strangely, what should be the most exciting romantic high point of Part V of the novel becomes deflated and, as I've said already, underwhelming. Part of my suspicion is that the novel's briefness -- the Norton Critical Edition contains all the action in just over 100 pages -- is what limits its scope, and Cather simply didn't focus enough on enough elements that build a great deal of interest.

In light of many other Modernist works that I've read recently, I simply couldn't shake what I felt was an excessive sense of mundanity in O Pioneers! Perhaps that's not the point, and if it's not, I clearly missed it; like many other brief novels, it very much left me wanting and expecting more.
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LibraryThing member cdeuker
Some of the most beautiful nature writing I've ever come across. She can make you feel the land. Story is also interesting, but the ending is a bit offensive to modern sensibilities. How exactly does Marie "deserve" to be killed by her loutish husband. Why would Alexandra feel sympathy for the man who killed . . . killed! . . . her brother. Has me scratching my head.… (more)
LibraryThing member cushlareads
The only Willa Cather I'd read before this one was Alexander's Bridge and that had been oooookay. This had a good plot, a great main character and some of the most beautiful writing about the American midwest that must exist. If it's sitting on your bookshelf, move it up your TBR mountain!!!

John Bergson and his wife emigrated from Sweden to Nebraska, where they became farmers. Right at the start of the book, after 5 years on the farm, John dies and leaves his daughter Alexandra in charge of all decisions concerning the farm and effectively the family - her 2 older brothers, Oscar and Lou, and Emil, who is much younger. Alexandra is smart, brave, calm, takes calculated risks, and looks after the family well. The book follows the Bergsons, their family dramas and their Bohemian and French immigrant neighbours over the next 20 years. This is definitely a book I want my daughter to read when she's old enough.

*spoilers* I thought about dinging this half a star because I found Alexandra's reaction to what happened unbelievable. What, what her friend and brother were doing was WORSE than what Frank did? Um, hellooo. But I think it probably fitted in with attitudes to infidelity and morality at the time Cather was writing, and it felt plausible, so I left it at 5 stars .
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I really liked this book - especially the character of Alexandra. She seemed such a solid and self-assured character. She knew what she wanted and loved - the land. You really feel that it was due to characters such as Alexandra that America was settled and civilized.
LibraryThing member lunacat
What a delightful tale of life and death on the American frontier. The descriptions of the land were sublime and the people within this story were all well rounded and realistic, with both strengths and weaknesses within each. My main complaint is that there wasn't enough of it. I felt there was a 400 page book hidden in this 122 page novella. The characters seemed to have so much more to tell, and we only got a glimpse of that within this book.

But maybe......just maybe, sometimes less is more.

In one line: Short tale of life and death and the beauty of a wilderness.
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LibraryThing member LukeS
Willa Cather gives us a memorable set of archetypal characters who revolve around Mother Earth, Alexandra Bergson. Much of what happens tastes fairly bitterly of fate, and the characters are pushed into situations which force them to act at cross-purposes with happiness.

What lasts is the hard-won triumph of the titular characters, the visionary and inexhaustible Alexandra most of all.… (more)
LibraryThing member cestovatela
During Cather's time, the story of a woman who succeeded on her own was probably an original one. These days, a determined woman who can run her own farm is a story you've read before. This is a work of literature that doesn't really stand the test of time.
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