Places: O Pioneers!

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1913

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: 1880-1910

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHanover

Hanover. O Pioneers!Fictional southern Nebraska town on a windblown plain closely modeled on Cather’s Nebraska hometown of Red Cloud, that provides a focal point for this novel. Cather spent her formative years on Nebraska’s plains. Although she moved away from Nebraska in 1896 to pursue careers in journalism and writing, she never lost her love of the plains, on which she set six of her novels. She wrote lyrically about the beauty of its plains and the challenges of the simple people who struggled to survive in an inhospitable climate.

Bergson farm

Bergson farm. Nebraska home of the Bergson family near Hanover. As this novel begins, a Swedish immigrant couple named Bergson have recently arrived in Nebraska, where the eldest child and only daughter, Alexandra, becomes the head of the family after the father dies. Despite financial problems, she refuses to sell the small family farm because of her devotion to the land. A shrewd businesswoman, she purchases land at depressed prices from farmers who move into town, and through great physical labor she not only saves the family farm but earns enough money to buy her brother Oscar a farm for his own family.

Roman Catholic church

Roman Catholic church. Local church with which Alexandra becomes affiliated. Norwegians, the Bergsons are Lutherans, and at first Alexandra attends a local Lutheran church. However, after her fellow Lutherans shun her because of her proposed marriage plans, she begins attending the local Catholic church, whose parishioners are mostly French immigrants. Although she does not convert to Catholicism, she is much happier in the Catholic parish because its services and social activities seem full of joy. For the first time in her life, Alexandra understands that religion and joy can coexist. She is amazed that the Catholics accept her with open arms although they know that she does not desire to convert to their faith. They do not judge or shun her.


*Lincoln. Nebraska town that is home to the University of Nebraska and the state prison to which the murderer of Alexandra’s brother Emil is sent.

BibliographyBagley, M. C. Cather’s Myths. New York: American Heritage, 1994. Discusses O Pioneers! in the context of the American myth of the settlement of the land and of the counter-myth of the rejection of the land. Places emphasis on Alexandra’s relationship to the land and how this symbolizes the settlement of America.Bennett, Mildred R. “O Pioneers!” In The World of Willa Cather. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1961. Discusses Cather’s early life in Nebraska as the setting and inspiration for O Pioneers!Motley, Warren. “The Unfinished Self: Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and the Psychic Cost of a Woman’s Success.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 12, no. 2 (1986): 149-165. Discusses the conflicts between many women’s desire for independence in the early twentieth century and their repression by society, especially in discussing Alexandra’s isolation.Murphy, John J., ed. Critical Essays on Willa Cather. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1984. This collection of essays deals with various themes and ideas, such as sexuality and childhood, encountered in Cather’s novels.Murphy, John J. Willa Cather: Family, Community, and History. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1990. This collection of critical essays examines recurrent motifs in Cather’s novels, such as how socialized concepts affect individual ideas about one’s place in the family, community, and history.O’Brien, Sharon. Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987. This biography examines Cather’s life before 1915, when she was becoming more famous for her novels, and speculates on her search for both a gender identity and a personal narrative voice.Rosowski, Susan J. “O Pioneers!: Willa Cather’s New World Pastoral.” In The Voyage Perilous: Willa Cather’s Romanticism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986. Discusses how the two stories, “Alexandra” and “The White Mulberry Tree,” came to be written and then combined into O Pioneers! Says novel is related to the classical tradition of the pastoral.Rosowski, Susan J. “Willa Cather–A Pioneer in Art: O Pioneers! and My Ántonia.” Prairie Schooner 55 (Spring/Summer, 1981): 141-154. Discusses how Cather’s regionalism relates to her skill as an author.Slote, Bernice. “Willa Cather and the Sense of History.” In Women, Women Writers, and the West, edited by L. L. Lee and Merrill Lewis. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1979. Examines the historical and mythical qualities of Cather’s novels that are used to connect the Old World with the New World.Slote, Bernice, and Virginia Faulkner, eds. The Art of Willa Cather. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1974. A collection of essays by noted Cather scholars discussing various aspects of her style of fiction.Wiesenthal, C. Susan. “Female Sexuality in Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and the Era of Scientific Sexology: A Dialogue Between Frontiers.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 21, no. 1 (1990): 41-63. Provides insights into the use of science to explain and to examine women’s sexuality in the early twentieth century and how such science applies to O Pioneers!.Woodress, James. Willa Cather: Her Life and Art. New York: Egasus, 1970. A critical biography, this work examines the connections between Cather’s personal life and her writing.
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