Understanding O Pioneers! and My Ántonia: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding O Pioneers! and My Ántonia: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding O Pioneers! and My Ántonia: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Understanding O Pioneers! and My Ántonia: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents

Synopsis

Willa Cather's novels Oh Pioneers! and My ntonia are at once accurate representations of life on the midwestern prairies in the era of their first settlement and continuations of a literary tradition that stretches back to Virgil and other classical writers who celebrated nature and pondered humanity's place within it. Both novels are given full literary treatment here with close examination of the timeless themes of love, loss, the transience of youth, and the influence of the land itself on people's lives. For readers who want to go beyond the subjects of these novels, to enter the places and eras Cather immortalized in her writing, this casebook also situates the two novels within their historical contexts with a rich array of documentation. Letters and journals from the late 1800s and early 1900s help readers understand the hardships and rewards of everyday life on the plains. Poignant personal accounts as well as government reports document the special challenges women and immigrants faced on the frontier. Readers will also be able to explore how the issues in Cather's novels continue to shape American culture today. Reports from congressional hearings and personal interviews give varied perspectives on the disappearance of the family farm and an USDA timeline chronicles the causes and ongoing ramifications of this important issue.

Students and their teachers will find a wealth of valuable information for their classroom discussions and research projects in this interdisciplinary casebook. Each topic chapter offers ideas for oral and written exploration as well as lists of further suggested readings. Students will not only gain a better understanding of Cather's novels here, but will be able to make connections between their thematic concerns and contemporary social issues.

Excerpt

While Willa Cather is often thought of as a novelist of the Midwest, her works in fact have settings that range across America and beyond. the two novels discussed in this work, however, are those in which she captures the culture of the American prairies in the generation just after their first settlement. O Pioneers! and My Ántonia have been embraced by both the citizens of the prairie states and readers around the world because they give a glimpse into a world that has vanished, but to which many still turn when they seek to recall what is quintessentially American about the culture of the United States, with its blend of traditional Protestant British cultures and those of immigrant groups of many kinds. Cather looks back to the pioneers and the immigrants who joined them on the prairie with real affection and even admiration for the efforts they made to turn the wild land into the bountiful fields that now feed the world.

Cather's work, however, is not in truth that of a regional or even a national author, though she can certainly be read for insights into the Midwestern and American characters. She is, in fact, an author who deals with the unchanging themes that have occupied writers in the Western tradition for millennia. While her characters are often simple or unlettered, the authorial voice she presents is one steeped in the literary tradition, from the Bible and Virgil on-

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