Willa Cather said that O Pioneers! was her first authentic novel, “the first time I walked off on my own feet—everything before was half real and half an imitation of writers whom I admired.” Cather’s novel of life on the Nebraska frontier established her reputation as a writer of great note and marked a significant turning point in her artistic development. No longer would she let literary convention guide the form of her writing; the materials themselves would dictate the structure.
Cather’s O Pioneers! is the sentimental and somewhat controversial story of the Bergsons, a family of Swedish pioneers that settles for life on the American prairie. While Alexandra, the family matriarch, is able to turn the family farm into a financial success, her brother Emil must grapple with the solace and tragedy of forbidden love. A novel surprisingly ahead of its time, this protofeminist work touches on a wide range of enduring themes, including love, marriage, temptation, and isolation.