Although it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922, this stirring novel about World War I remains far less known than Cather’s established classics such as My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. In the lucid, unadorned prose that was her hallmark, Cather brings to life the simple Nebraska farm folk and their tranquil rural lifestyle, showing how the Great War, seemingly so far away on the Old Continent, eventually touches them all.
More than half of the novel is devoted to the slow rhythms of the prairie farmland centering on the Wheeler homestead. The novel’s protagonist, Claude Wheeler, a strong, healthy, red-headed farm boy, is physically a typical representative of his sturdy sodbuster family and hard-working neighbors. But mentally the boy has little in common with their narrow outlooks, and the limited horizons of his parochial community make him restless and filled with a barely suppressed discontent. Through a series of striking vignettes, Cather brilliantly reveals Claude’s search for some greater purpose to his life beyond the routines of farm life.
Gradually, the widening war in Europe sneaks up on the rural Nebraska region, as newspaper reports of refugees and German atrocities begin to stir the emotions of the local young men. When the United States finally enters the conflict, Claude is one of the first to enlist, seeing purpose, adventure, and commitment to some larger ideal in the call to arms.
Claude’s longings for radically new experiences are more than amply realized overseas in sobering encounters with suffering French women and children, the battle-scarred English "Tommies," and the tenacious German enemy.
One of Ours is a memorable testament to the shattering effects of war on youth and ideals, a powerful depiction of mechanized battle, and its life-changing effects on one Nebraska farm boy and the people he left behind.
About Willa Cather
Willa Cather was probably born in Virginia in 1873, although her parents did not register the date, and it is probably incorrectly given on her tombstone. Because she is so famous for her Nebraska novels, many people assume she was born there, but Willa Cather was about nine years old when her family moved to a small Nebraska frontier town called Red Cloud that was populated by immigrant Swedes, Bohemians, Germans, Poles, Czechs, and Russians. The oldest of seven children, she was educated at home, studied Latin with a neighbor, and read the English classics in the evening. By the time she went to the University of Nebraska in 1891–where she began by wearing boy’s clothes and cut her hair close to her head–she had decided to be a writer.
After graduation she worked for a Lincoln, Nebraska, newspaper, then moved to Pittsburgh and finally to New York City. There she joined McClure’s magazine, a popular muckraking periodical that encouraged the writing of new young authors. After meeting the author Sarah Orne Jewett, she decided to quit journalism and devote herself full time to fiction. Her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, appeared in serial form in McClure’ s in 1912. But her place in American literature was established with her first Nebraska novel, O Pioneers!, published in 1913, which was followed by her most famous pioneer novel, My Antonia, in 1918. In 1922 she won the Pulitzer Prize for one of her lesser-known books, One of Ours. Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), her masterpiece, and Shadows on the Rock (1931) also celebrated the pioneer spirit, but in the Southwest and French Canada. Her other novels include The Song of the Lark (1915), The Professor’ s House (1925), My Mortal Enemy (1926), and Lucy Gayheart (1935). Willa Cather died in 1947.