Monday, February 27, 2012
Revisiting a Classic: Mini-Review of "O Pioneers" by Willa Cather
I read Willa Cather's "Death Comes for the Archbishop" back in my prep school days because it was on a long list of required summer reading I dutifully read the book, wrote my report, checked off the assignment and moved on. Now, many years down the path towards maturity, I have rediscovered the brilliance of Cather's writing. In the heroine, Alexandra Bergson, Cather offered up a woman who conquered not only the untamed hardscrabble Nebraska landscape but also the rock-strewn acreage of her family and her own long-deferred longings. The tale of one of heart-breaking inspiration - stubbornness bumping up against a more enlightened determination. Alexandra proved to be more solid and capable than any of her male relatives.
Cather draws from the deep well of her own experience growing up on the Nebraska prairie, painting a nuanced portrait of the interplay among the ethnic groups that came seeking their fortunes- the Swedes, Norwegians, Bohemians and French. The interplay of triumph and tragedy makes for a powerful dramatic arc, and kept me reading far into the night to find out the fate of characters I had come to care about. Ninety-nine years after this story was first published, "O Pioneers" still speaks to the pioneer spirit that still stirs in many of us.