"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." This is what Miss Cather said about her novel, O Pioneers!, another member of the Prairie Trilogy (for a review of My Antonia, click here). And it truly is a pleasure reading this story. In O Pioneers! she captures the heart of the prairie and the brave immigrants who had the grit and determination to tame it.
O Pioneers! is a tale of hardship, devotion, death, greed, love, and triumph, and reads like a eulogy for the old Nebraska and the people who cultivated it. Our main character is Alexandra Bergson, who is the eldest in the family and must manage their small farm once their Swedish immigrant father passes away. Eventually, through much hard labor and trials, she becomes prosperous and successful. Alexandra is like a rock, holding on to the land when all the other settlers find it too rough and leave. She is wise and determined, knowing that she can tame the land is succeed.
The book also contains the story of two young lovers, Alexandra's youngest brother Emil, and a lovely Bohemian girl, Marie Shabata, whose romance must result in tragedy, because she is bound to the jealous Frank Shabata in a loveless marriage. Another quieter love story lives in Alexandra and a discontented, restless Carl Linstrum, who leaves the prairie to find richer soil, but is disappointed when his wandering life offers him no prospects, which smacks of The Magnificent Seven.
"Freedom so often means that one is n't needed anywhere. 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 to pay our rent, the exorbitant rent that one has to pay for a few square feet 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 the theatres. We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder."
As in My Antonia, there is a great cultural diversity as Miss Cather describes the everyday lives of Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants, and has a somewhat mournful nostalgic tone about it. O Pioneers! is a strikingly beautiful work, embodying the rugged grandeur of the prairie.
"Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth!"