O Pioneers!

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O Pioneers! Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Willa Cather's O Pioneers!. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Willa Cather
Willa Cather was born into a large farming family in rural Virginia. In 1883, when Cather was ten years old, her family relocated to Red Cloud, Nebraska. She attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she paid her way by working for the Nebraska State Journal, and later moved to Pittsburgh to teach high school English. In 1906 she moved to New York City to work for McClure's Magazine, but began to write full-time in 1912. In her lifetime, Cather published 12 novels and many short stories, many of them focused on the plains and prairie of the American Midwest. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for her novel One of Ours. A fiercely private person, Cather never married. Her most significant relationships were with women, most notably the editor Edith Lewis, with whom she lived in New York City from 1912 until her death in 1947.
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Historical Context of O Pioneers!
In the late 19th century, many Northern Europeans traveled to settle in Nebraska and the Dakotas. Accustomed to small fishing villages in their countries of origin, many immigrant farmers despaired at the vast expanses, language barriers, and harsh weather that separated them from their neighbors in the prairie. This sense of isolation is one of the main themes connecting Cather’s prairie trilogy novels. O Pioneers! also appealed to progressives who were interested in social and economic issues because the novel explored women's strength and adaptability, and also brought attention to the hardships of immigrant life in the United States.
Other Books Related to O Pioneers!
Many copies of O Pioneers! are accompanied by the poem, “Pioneers! O Pioneers!” by Walt Whitman, which is said to be the source of the novel's title. O Pioneers! is the first novel of Cather’s “prairie trilogy,” followed by The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918). Cather was also a great admirer of Sarah Orne Jewett, the author responsible for The Country of the Pointed Firs, a short story collection that describes the isolation and hardships of the inhabitants of decaying fishing villages along the coast of Maine.
Key Facts about O Pioneers!
  • Full Title: O Pioneers!
  • When Written: 1913
  • Where Written: New York
  • When Published: 1913
  • Literary Period: Realism
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Setting: Hanover, Nebraska in the 1880s
  • Climax: Emil and Marie are fatally shot by Marie’s husband, Frank Shabata
  • Point of View: Third person
Extra Credit for O Pioneers!

Ban on Film: After being upset by a film adaptation of her novel A Lost Lady in 1934, Willa Cather vowed not to allow any more film adaptions of her writing to be made. She included this stipulation in her will in 1947, but following the death of the last living executor of her estate in 2011, the ban on film adaptations—and the publication of her personal letters—has been lifted.

Willa the Tomboy: As a college student, Cather dressed as a tomboy and sometimes used the name "William." Most of her novels are written from the point of view of a male character. Though she never declared her sexual orientation, it has been a topic of debate among scholars.