As the school year turns to its last page, my English class is ending the year by reading a book written by a famous Nebraskan author. “O Pioneers!” was written by Willa Cather, a writer who achieved recognition for her frontier novels during the early 20th century.
“O Pioneers!” is set in the sweeping plains of Nebraska and tells the story of the Bergson family. The novel focuses on one particular family member, Alexandra, who, through her strength and determination, helps her family to survive and thrive, even during difficult times. Only through her pioneering spirit and resolve is Alexandra able to keep her family’s land and, eventually, become a very prosperous farmer.
Getting the chance to explore this book has taught me more about Nebraska than I have learned in the past 16 years that I have lived in this state. I have learned about its people, its beauty, and its ability to give us strength and determination through reading this novel.
When Cather was writing books, the traditional story of the time period generally included characters who came from affluent families, but Cather took a revolutionary step away from the wealthy scenes about which many people were accustomed to reading. Instead, Cather told the story of the people who may not be born into affluent families, but they were families who had great influence on the prairies of Nebraska and the state’s descendants. She gave breath to the people who were pioneers; she told the stories of those who were determined and industrious, ready to settle the untamed prairies. Cather explored the intricate lives of individuals who were disregarded by the wealthy members of society, yet they are people who had such a profound effect on our country.
The people that Cather describes in her novel are the people who persisted through hardships, and they were rewarded for their efforts. They knew there was no substitute for hard work, so they put in the effort every day. Whenever I think about who I want to be, I remember who they were.
In fact, Cather herself epitomizes who I aspire to be, and the books she wrote continue to inspire me nearly a century after they were written. Hopefully, one day, this girl with books will become the woman writing them, just like Willa Cather. Hopefully, I can follow in her footsteps, but, until then, I have to remember that the people who live in Nebraska are hard workers, even when we face difficult situations. Not all of us may be descendants of those who explored the frontier, but we all epitomize their greatest traits: their attitudes, their energy and their great pioneering spirit.
Cather modeled her characters off of the people she grew up with, and I hope that we are able to model our efforts and industrious attitudes off of the characters in her novels.
However, what I find most remarkable about “O Pioneers!” is the setting; traditionally, the setting provides the backdrop for a story, but, in this novel, the setting is symbolic, propelling the plot and encouraging the main character to become independent. Without the setting, the protagonist would have never had the desire to keep dreaming and keep working. In fact, the setting is almost its own character; the vivid descriptions of the landscape often include personifications, breathing life into a part of the plot that is generally insignificant.
Growing up in Nebraska, I have often disregarded the landscape in favor of the crystal blue ocean waves or the immensely beautiful mountains that can’t be found in this state. After reading Cather’s masterpiece, my opinion of Nebraska has shifted immensely. The endless golden waves of wheat fields and the immensely beautiful landscape provide a simple peacefulness that is rarely cluttered by the busy world. This place may not be a traditional paradise, but, if I were to imagine an ideal place, it would be quiet and simple. It would be here.
Now, more than ever, I am recognizing the place in which I have grown up and the people who have shaped me. This community and this setting provide me with a beautiful story. It is my story, but it is also your story and the story of those who have pioneered.
Truly, this is the good life.