O Pioneers! (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.

"The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman," writes Willa Cather in O Pioneers! The country is America; the woman is Alexandra Bergson, a fiercely independent young Swedish immigrant girl who inherits her father’s farm in Nebraska. A model of emotional strength, courage, and resolve, Alexandra fights long and hard to transform her father’s patch of raw, wind-blasted prairie into a highly profitable business.

A gripping saga of love, murder, greed, failure, and triumph, O Pioneers! vividly portrays the hardships of prairie life. Above all, it champions the belief that hard work is the surest road to personal fulfillment. Described upon publication in The New York Times as “American in the best sense of the word,” O Pioneers! celebrates the men and women who struggled to build a nation that is both compelling and contradictory.

Chris Kraus is the author of Aliens & Anorexia, I Love Dick, and the forthcoming novel, Torpor. She is co-editor of Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotexte Reader, and edits Semiotexte Native Agents, a series of mostly female underground fiction.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593082055
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 7/1/2004
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 136,229
  • Product dimensions: 7.94 (w) x 5.30 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Kraus is the author of Aliens & Anorexia, I Love Dick, and the forthcoming novel, Torpor. She is co-editor of Hatred of Capitalism: A Semiotexte Reader, and edits Semiotexte Native Agents, a series of mostly female underground fiction.


Wilella Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in the small Virginia farming community of Winchester. When she was ten years old, her parents moved the family to the prairies of Nebraska, where her father opened a farm mortgage and insurance business. Home-schooled before enrolling in the local high school, Cather had a mind of her own, changing her given name to Willa and adopting a variation of her grandmother's maiden name, Seibert, as her middle name.

During Cather's studies at the University of Nebraska, she worked as a drama critic to support herself and published her first piece of short fiction, "Peter," in a Boston magazine. After graduation, her love of music and intellectual pursuits inspired her to move to Pittsburgh, where she edited the family magazine Home Monthly, wrote theater criticism for the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, and taught English and Latin in local high schools. Cather's big break came with the publication of her first short story collection, The Troll Garden (1905). The following year she moved to New York City to work for McClure's Magazine as a writer and eventually the magazine's managing editor.

Considered one of the great figures of early-twentieth-century American literature, Willa Cather derived much of her inspiration from the American Midwest, which she considered her home. Never married, she cherished her many friendships, some of which she had maintained since childhood. Her intimate coterie of women writers and artists motivated Cather to produce some of her best work. Sarah Orne Jewett, a successful author from Maine whom Cather had met during her McClure's years, inspired her to devote herself full-time to creating literature and to write about her childhood, which she did in several novels of the prairies. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel about World War I, called One of Ours.

She won many other awards, including a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Prix Femina Americaine. On April 24, 1947, two years after publishing her last novel, Willa Cather died in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage. Among Cather's other accomplishments were honorary doctorate degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of O, Pioneers!.

Good To Know

When Cather first arrived at the University of Nebraska, she dressed as William Cather, her opposite sex twin.

Cather was the first woman voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, in 1961.

She spent forty years of her life with her companion, Edith Lewis, in New York City.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Wilella Sibert Cather (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 7, 1873
    2. Place of Birth:
      Winchester, Virginia
    1. Date of Death:
      April 27, 1947
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York

Read an Excerpt

From Chris Kraus's Introduction to O Pioneers!

In her extraordinary book Willa Cather: The Politics of Criticism, Joan Acocella describes young Cather's childhood: "No money, no privacy, no great things around her, but just a dusty prairie town . . . a mother usually sick or pregnant, and a pack of noisy little brothers and sisters" (p. 8). By all reports, in Red Cloud she was an outrageous genius-in Acocella's words, "a show-off, an explosion, a pest" (Acocella, p. 8), selecting from among the town's adults those who would be most interesting and helpful.

As scholarly research into Cather's life and work has shown, she made up very little. Descendants of the "originals" on whom many Cather characters are based speak regularly to researchers and fans at the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation. (No one, yet, has been identified as Alexandra's model, though it might be fair to assume that parts of Alexandra's character-her industriousness, her sense of purpose-were based on Cather's own.) Likewise, Cather's Red Cloud reputation is remembered, via stories told by grandparents, by many people in the town. Her closest childhood friends were Dr. Dammeral, the town's physician (on whom Cather based Dr. Archie in The Song of the Lark), who once let the twelve-year-old Willa assist him with an amputation; Herr Scheindelmeister (the model for Professor Wunsch in Lark), the town drunk and sometime piano teacher, who told her stories about classical music and the lives of the great musicians in Europe; and William Ducker, a clerk in a dry goods store who taught her Greek and Latin (he appears in Lark as Johnny Tellamantez). Sometimes Ducker would invite young Willa to help him perform a vivisection in his homemade lab.

When she was thirteen, Willa was given her own tiny, freezing attic room, a privilege she abused by endless reading. And then she just exploded. At fourteen, she went to the town barber, got a crew cut, and started dressing like a man. She liked to call herself "William Cather" and sometimes even "William Cather, M.D." Acocella recalls a "friendship album" kept by one of Cather's schoolmates in which "William" lists "flirting" as the trait that she admires most in women. In men, of course, it is "an original mind." Perfect misery, she wrote, was doing needlework. And perfect happiness? Amputing limbs (Acocella, p. 9).

She escaped from Red Cloud thinking she'd learn exactly how to do this. Using money that her father borrowed from a friend, she took a year of prep school in Lincoln, and then signed up for the pre-med course at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. But when an English teacher got her essay on Thomas Carlyle into print with the Nebraska State Journal, she quickly changed her mind and decided to become a writer. She became coeditor of the school's literary magazine, The Hesperian, and wrote freelance articles for Lincoln newspapers. While she was still a college sophomore at age nineteen, she was invited to become a regular columnist for the State Journal. As James Woodress notes in his biography of Cather, her output during these years was astonishing. She wrote music reviews, theater reviews, feature articles, reports on the populist agrarian Chautauqua movement, and, in an article in The Nebraska Editor, was noted as "a young woman with a genius for literary expression." Short stories she worked on in her "spare" time were published in prestigious journals in New York and Boston. She fell in love with many of the actresses she wrote about, and lavished them with champagne and clothes and jewels. For Cather as for Balzac, a writer she despised, debt was a fantastic motivator: She had to keep writing in order to pay the debts she ran up hanging out all night with glamorous people, whose luminescent presences in turn excited her and inspired her to keep on writing.

By her second year in Lincoln, friends managed to persuade Cather to stop dressing like a man. Nevertheless, she found it necessary to create some distance between herself and the crippling fact of being female in the nineteenth century. Though she declared with some bravada, "The fact that I was a girl never damaged my ambitions to be a pope or emperor," she went out of her way to dismiss the work of other female writers. Acocella provides a roundup of Cather's early anti-feminist criticism: '"Sometimes I wonder why God ever trusts (literary) talent in the hands of women, they usually make such an infernal mess of it," she wrote in 1895. "I think He must do it as a sort of ghastly joke." Female poets were so gushy-"emotional in the extreme, self-centered, self-absorbed." As for female novelists, all they could write about was love: 'They have a sort of sex consciousness that is abominable." The necessity for powerful, distinguished women to separate themselves from the perceived triviality of femaleness and the politics of feminism is a tendency that has persisted until the present. The critic Laurie Stone has written incisively on the anti-feminist positions held by Mary McCarthy and Elizabeth Hardwick, and it is fascinating to consider, as Stone does, how these stances have been picked up and deployed by those wanting to keep women in their place within the culture. But as Joan Acocella points out, one of Cather's greatest achievements was to write fiction in which love and marriage comprise only partial aspects of her female protagonists' destinies. Alexandra does marry Carl, but this isn't the point of the story. By the time they marry, Alexandra's character has already been formed-by her relationship to the land, and to others; she is not defined by her marriage. Surely despite her courage and enormous literary achievement, Cather deserves the right to be as complex and as contradictory as any person. Cather's sexual orientation remains ambiguous: a thing, she had obviously decided, to be left out of any discussion of her life and her work. Although all of Cather's intimate relationships were with women and she maintained raging crushes on girls, none of the women in her life ever spoke of their relationships with her in sexual terms. To seal this decision of silence, letters were constantly burned: by Cather herself and by recipients, at her request.

The Agricultural Depression of 1893-1896 (described at the end of "The Wild Land" section of O Pioneers!) drove Cather home to Red Cloud in 1895 when she graduated. Her father's farm mortgage and insurance business was foundering, and she agreed to mind the office while he pursued other business prospects in Lincoln. Back in Red Cloud, she dreamed mostly about traveling, so when an opportunity arose the following year to join the staff of the Pittsburgh Home Monthly, she took it.

From the Home Monthly, she moved to the more prestigious Pittsburgh Daily Leader, rewriting wire stories and continuing to publish various freelance reviews. By the time she was twenty-eight years old, she'd published nearly half a million words of journalism. Exhausted and despairing that she'd never have the time to write the fiction she was meant to, she left journalism to teach high school for four years in Pittsburgh.

During this period she wrote "Paul's Case," the short story that was to be most prescient of her later writing, and the one of which she was proudest. "Paul's Case" is an exquisitely objective psychological portrait of a young man whose amorality dazzles and bewilders everyone he crosses. (The unrepentantly amoral Paul in many ways became a model for Tom Ripley, the hero of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley novels.) The last line of the story is shocking in its radical acceptance of Paul's fate: When Paul throws himself under a train, he drops "back into the immense design of things." The conclusion echoes Cather's childhood epiphany of the "erasure of personality" effected by the stark Nebraska landscape. It's the first suggestion of the irrevocable sense of fate that will inform O Pioneers! and Cather's later writing.

While in Pittsburgh, she published her first two books of creative writing: a book of poems called April Twilights (1903) and a collection of seven short stories, including "Paul's Case," entitled The Troll Garden (1905). In Pittsburgh she became the friend of many sophisticated, fascinating people: artists, industrialists, and socialites. With her new friend Isabelle McClung, a prominent judge's daughter, she had an opportunity to follow in the path of other cosmopolitan Americans, visiting the most fashionable parts of Europe. This, she thought, must be the stuff of fiction, and this brilliant Red Cloud girl did her best to write stories in the vein of Henry James and Edith Wharton. It was only after finishing O Pioneers! that she would realize "life began for me when I ceased to admire and began to remember." But she would not have the opportunity to pursue this until years later; a visit from the New York publisher of The Troll Garden, S. S. McClure, who also owned a magazine named for him, seduced her back to journalism. She left Pittsburgh and went to New York to join the staff of McClure's Magazine. Cather's work for McClure's-in her six years there, she became the managing editor of one of the most influential political and literary magazines in America-afforded her many opportunities to travel, the most important of which was the half year she spent in Boston, fact-checking a series of articles on the Christian Scientist Mary Baker Eddy. Because it was there that she met Annie Adams Fields, keeper of Cambridge's most dazzling salon, whose habituées had included every important nineteenth-century writer from Nathaniel Hawthorne to Charles Dickens. Cather would later record her impressions of this house and the still-beautiful eighty-year-old woman in her essay "148 Charles Street" (collected in Not Under Forty). And it was Mrs. Fields who introduced to her to the essayist and fiction writer Sarah Orne Jewett. At age sixty, twenty-five years Cather's senior, Jewett took the younger writer absolutely seriously.

In December 1908 Jewett wrote Cather an extraordinary letter that would change her life. Responding to "On the Gull's Road," a short story Cather published in McClure's, Jewett said she loved the story but found Cather's use of a male narrator false. In another letter, written two weeks later, Jewett advised: "I cannot help saying what I think about your writing and its being hindered by such incessant, important, responsible work as you . . . have now. You must find your own quiet center of life and write from that . . . to write and work from this level we must live it."

It was the most commonsense advice-write what you know, and find the time to do it-and Cather took it. The next year she wrote her first Nebraska story, "The Enchanted Bluff." She made notes for "Alexandra," an unpublished story that would form a basis for O Pioneers! In 1911 she took a long leave from the magazine to write Alexander's Bridge, a society novel set in Boston, but as soon as she finished it she threw herself into writing another Nebraska story, "The Bohemian Girl." Then she traveled to the Southwest for seven weeks and did nothing. The immenseness of the desert settled down on her and made it seem possible to start a new life. She then went to Red Cloud, where she wrote "The White Mulberry Tree," which would become Part 5 of O Pioneers! She stopped in Pittsburgh before returning to New York, and it was here, when she put the unpublished "Alexandra" and "The White Mulberry Tree" side by side, that she realized she'd already written half a novel. Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant recalls: "She said she could only describe this coming together of the two elements . . . as a sudden inner explosion and enlightenment . . . The explosion seemed to bring with it the inevitable shape that is not plotted but designs itself" (Woodress, pp. 231-232).

She'd finally discovered how she wanted to write fiction.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 214 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 217 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 4, 2010


    This was the first Willa Cather book I have ever read, and I was not disappointed. This novel is short, but spans over a woman's life from teenage years past her forties, with love stories, conflicts, murders, sweet characters, strange characters, mean characters. I just loved it. Not to mention that Willa Cather's view of America's land is beautiful to read. It gives you a sense of appreciation for things that you may have overlooked, or that you could never quite put into such words as Willa Cather. I got the sense that Alexandra was greatly inspired by Willa Cather herself, which also adds to the book. This book was a very quick read, but one I am sure I will read many times. I also plan to give her other writings a read as well!

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 11, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Poignant frontier tale

    Will Cather's O Pioneers! certainly left an impression on me, as any good book should. The novella, a haunting, even troublesome, story of the life of European immigrants in Nebraska at the end of the 19th century, belies Cather's simple, casual style by providing deep insights into the human condition and life itself. Cather claimed she "wanted to let the country be the hero," and she definitely succeeds in her purpose. In fact, none of the characters--least of all Alexandra Bergson, the protagonist--display profound depth or dynamism in and of themselves, but Cather places her "human characters" in the background for a reason. Her story ultimately focuses on the interaction between Man and Nature, as well as humanity's continual struggle against perceived "fate." Deeply tragic yet (paradoxically enough) hopeful and satisfying, O Pioneers! takes the reader on a journey through the melancholy regions of life, refusing to glamorize pain and hardship. However, Cather finally concludes that loss constitutes an integral part of the human experience and essentially serves to refine each individual. Recommended!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Touching- Makes you think.

    I read O Pioneers for school but quickly found it was more of a for-fun read- I enjoyed every page and only wish it were longer. The characters are so amazingly real that the reader becomes easily attached to them. I really felt as though I was in the book as I experienced this amazing tale.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Cather paints with words

    I bought this book as a gift for my niece who is a book worm. Willa Cather paints her stories. She is a wonderful writer. Great stories, great characters. This is a classic of the pioneering days in the Midwest. I highly recommend all her books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A wonderfull story

    I read this in High School and 40 plus years later my Book Club decided to read it. Got so much more out of it now - It is a wonderful easy yet very deep meaning story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014


    An ok read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2013

    Very good.

    I liked the part where Emil was fussing about his kitten.

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  • Posted May 10, 2011

    Truly a Classic

    If you have never walked the hills and fields of grass in Webster county nebraska smelle,d touched and felt the land the way Cather did the you owe it to yourself to do just that. Located a short 2 hour drive from Lincon here is a 1 or 2 day, 1 tank trip to see much of rural America as it was 120 years ago. Some of the best preserved sites and buildings anwyhere and the are in our back yard. OH and the book Love, Murder, Adultry it is all there and even better today than when it was new. Interesting how times change but the stories continue!

    Been There

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  • Posted May 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    It's a classic so it's kind of dry

    I had no problems getting through the first half of this book. As I progressed in the novel I had a hard time getting through the rest. It just drags on in some spots. I appreciate the classic writing and storytelling and all that but I totally get why I had problems reading it in high school.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2011

    I LOVED this story

    Perhaps because I was born and raised on a farm in Canada, I related to this story. I understand the hardships associated with farm life, and the tolls it can take on a family.
    The characters are so well defined, they virtually step out of the pages and into your life.
    I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about the breaking into the midwest, how people survived and the hardships they endured. Though at times it may read like a history book, it opens the readers mind to what it was like to live in those times. The story helps us to experience the deep family bonds, the test of wills, and the liberties and constraints people lived with, both personally and culturally. A very good read; I only thing I disliked was having to put it down for mundane things like, sleep, meals and general household tasks!

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  • Posted March 8, 2011


    I really loved this book. It could have been written yesterday instead of decades ago. The characters are strong and the story goes at a good pace.

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  • Posted September 19, 2010

    A good book!

    Somehow I missed reading this one in high school. Even though this book is almost a century old, the story of love, loss, and determination is timeless. The writing style is easy to read, characters are believable, and the descriptions of the prairie are lovely. I recommend this one.

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  • Posted November 19, 2008

    more from this reviewer


    I'm not a Willa Cather fan but I have nothing by praise for this book. <BR/>Other works by Cather have failed to move me, so I expected little from O Pioneers! <BR/>There's an economy of words, but each one paints a very thorough, detailed and imaginative picture. This book is meant to be read several times.<BR/>A true classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2008

    Slow at first, then haunting

    Alexandra grows up in frontier Nebraska on the brink of what appears to be a wasteland. Through forward, perhaps wishful, thinking - Alexandra conquers the plain but at the expense of her distrustful family. The story has an unexpected, haunting conclusion.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2007

    A reviewer

    A bit slow at first, then the reader's interest is entwined with concern for the characters' survival. Like many classics, values and ethics are presented as story and develop into life's lessons that all should consider, but rarely pay any attention to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2007

    O Pioneers (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

    I loved every page in this book. I don't want to ruin the ending, but it is one i will not soon forget. It left me thinking for a long time. This book has many lessons and ideas buried within. Overall, a fantastic book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2007

    O Pioneers (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

    I wasn't looking for this book when I found it, but it turned out to be better than any others I bought that day. The story goes quickly through the life of a woman named Alexandra. This book ended fantastically and I will always treausre this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2005

    Struggle on the Frontier

    This short to the point story about a woman challenged by the Nebraska farm land. It is amazing what she went through.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2004

    A wonderful book!

    I stumbled on this book one day entirely by accident, and I'm so glad I did! It is a very engaging book. Cather's flowing style and her mastery of descriptive writing made this book especially enjoyable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2004

    Great Classic!

    I really enjoy reading about pioneers and frontier life. I have bought classics in the past but they have just ended up on the my bookshelve because I have a difficult time getting into them. I didn't have any problems with this book. It reads very smoothly and it holds your interest. I look forward to reading Cather's book, My Antonia, next.

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