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O Pioneers

How to Fight Loneliness in Only, Tennessee

Probably more than any novel I planned to teach at the Only, Tennessee prison on Tuesday nights, Willa Cather’s O Pioneers seemed the biggest challenge. Cather’s novel doesn’t jibe with traditional, patriarchal notions of pioneering. Her protagonist is a woman. The story doesn’t play well with most history textbooks either. Native peoples on the Plains don’t figure in the story at all, and Populism merits only a passing mention, mostly as an irritating tendency in resentful men. After getting along for a while in its intimate world, the reader has to think about absences like these. The story is about Read more