O Pioneers

The Social Commentary of O Pioneers 11th Grade

Willa Cather’s 1913 novel O Pioneers! is very much a work of its time, providing social commentary regarding a number of significant issues of the nineteenth into early twentieth century. This commentary presents a variety of frameworks for critical analysis: from the perspective of reform movements, immigrant culture, Populism, and especially women’s rights.

One possible analysis of O Pioneers! deals with the movements of education and prison reform. Alexandra clearly values education: “[Alexandra] spent a whole day with one young farmer who had been away at school, and who was experimenting with a new kind of clover hay”, and wants “Emil to go to school”. Through Alexandra, Cather asks her reader to recognize the power of education as a tool to improve one’s situation, thus supporting the education reform movement. The novel then goes on to question the treatment of the insane and calls for prison reform. Through Ivar, Cather communicates her distaste for insane asylums: “they have built the asylum for people who are different,” Ivar says to Alexandra. And through Frank Shabata, Cather demonstrates a need for prison reform. After her visit with Frank, Alexandra feels disgusted with the prison: “She had refused with horror the...

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