About the Novel
O Pioneers! was published in 1913.
Willa Cather, 1873-1947
Cather immigrated to Nebraska from Virginia when she was nine and her descriptions of the desolation, loneliness, and hope of the pioneers come from her memories of that time. Although technically her second novel, Cather considered O Pioneers! to be her first.
O Pioneers! is a regional novel set in Cather's home state of Nebraska. Alexandra Bergson, a young woman of Swedish heritage, is an independent thinker who loves the land and can see possibilities where others only see the problems. In a world where men have traditionally made all the decisions, Alexandra breaks the mold.
This story describes the American dream of the late nineteenth century immigrant. It tells of the work and hardship involved in the settlement of the west as the immigrants struggled to make a place for themselves. The story centers around the Bergson farm, a poorly producing property owned by Alexandra's father. Although he has three sons, when he realizes he is dying, he leaves control of the farm to his only daughter. Her spirit and drive combine to enable her to make a success where others fail. Her business success, however, is not reflected in personal satisfaction as she is isolated and lonely, continually criticized by her older brothers for her independent ways.