Friday, January 13, 2012

O, Pioneers!

I finished this book a little bit ago, but forgot to post about it. I chose O'Pioneers, because I was interested in reading something by Willa Cather, and equally importantly because it was available in a Dover Thrift Edition- $2.00!!

What an interesting book. I enjoyed all of it, and found especially interesting the feminism obvious in the writing, as well as the soap opera romantic drama that takes up part of the plot- Forbidden Love! Adultery! WOMEN OWNING AND MAKING ALL DECISIONS REGARDING THEIR PROPERTY (What?!?!)!

Like other books I've chosen in the course of this project, this book offers insight into a particular time in history, and offers a history lesson as well as a good read. O'Pioneers actually gives the reader two history lessons: the first part of the book takes place when the American prairie was first being settled and when the pioneers were struggling to survive in an ecosystem that was fighting their attempts to subdue it; and the second part of the book takes place about 16 years later when the prairie had been divided up and 'civilized'- when people had moved past the point of mere daily survival. The first part took place when people were living in sod houses. The second part took place when people had built proper Victorian homes. Two very different periods in the history of the American prairie.

The protagonist is a Swedish woman named Alexandra who is left in charge of her father's homestead on the American prairie after he dies. She makes shrewd business decisions that go against the practices of her neighbors and because of this- she turns her father's farm into a very successful and profitable enterprise.

She is interesting for many reasons. She's very intelligent, she's an amazing and intuitive business woman, she cares not even a little for what the men around her think she should be doing, but on the other hand, she is blind when it comes to her own feelings and the feelings of those around her.

I loved the obvious feminist commentary present in the text. Consider the following conversation between Alexandra and her brothers (keep in mind the attitude of people towards women at the turn of the 20th century):

Alexandra waved her hand impatiently. "Come now Lou, stick to the facts. You are talking nonsense. Got to the county clerk and ask him who owns my land, and whether my titles are good."

Lou turned to his brother. "This is what comes of letting a woman meddle in business," he said bitterly. "we ought to have taken things in our own hands years ago. But she liked to run things, and we humored her"...

Alexandra rapped impatiently on her desk with her knuckles "Listen Lou, Don't talk wild. You say you ought to have taken things into your own hands years ago. I suppose you mean before you left home. But how could you take hold of what was not there? I've got most of what I have now since we divided the property: I've built it up myself, and it has nothing to do with you."


Well done, Ms. Cather. Well done. 

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