Willa Cather's book, 'One of Ours', was written in honor and memory of her cousin who was killed in France during World War I, the war to end all wars. This book won the Pulitzer award. It is the beautiful and sensitive story of a young mans' walk through life. It is also the beautifully written and nuanced study of a sensitive, idealistic young man. But what elevates it to near-masterpiece status is its extremely subtle depiction of the excesses of idealism. Trapped in a grubby, increasingly materialistic world, Claude yearns for something noble and meaningful. Unfortunately, he finds it only in the patriotic fervor that swept America into World War I, the most brutal, senseless war in history. Writing from Claude's viewpoint, Cather almost makes you think that the exhilaration of fighting for a noble cause does indeed justify the terrible toll of war--but not quite, because she occasionally drops tiny hints that Claude's newfound, heartfelt sense of purpose and engagement might be deluded and tragic. The final chapter, from his mother's viewpoint, is devastating, though perhaps not enough. The independent-minded reader might keep comparing Claude's feeling about the glory of war with the fact that patriotic passion--fight and die for the homeland--has sent untold millions of soldiers to their death since nearly the dawn of time. Cather does little to help readers maintain that all-important perspective: it is never entirely clear whether and to what extent Cather sees through that horrendous myth. Perhaps that's the genius of the 'One of Ours," to force readers to draw devastating conclusions. Or perhaps, as Hemingway implied, Cather herself was seduced by the romantic, tragically blind view of the nobility of war.
About the Author
Willa Sibert Cather (1873 -1947) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, works such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and The Song of the Lark. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I. Cather grew up in Nebraska and graduated from the state university; she lived in New York for most of her adult life and writing career. In 1896, Cather moved to Pittsburgh after being hired to write for The Home Monthly. She lived in Pittsburgh until 1906. In Pittsburgh, she taught English first at Central High School for one year and then at Allegheny High School, where she also taught Latin and became the head of the English department. She also worked as a telegraph editor and drama critic for the Pittsburgh Leader and frequently contributed to The Library, another local publication. She moved to New York City in 1906 upon receiving a job offer on the editorial staff from McClure's Magazine. Cather and Georgina M. Wells were co-authors of a critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was serialized in McClure's in 1907-8 and published the next year as a book. Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy up every copy. McClure's serialized Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912). The work showed her admiration for the style of Henry James. While recognizing her potential, the author Sarah Orne Jewett advised Cather to rely less on James and more on her own experiences in Nebraska. Cather left McClure's in 1912 and began to write full time. Cather returned to the prairie as a setting for inspiration for most of her novels; she also used experiences from her travels in France. Such deeply felt works became both popular and critical successes. Cather was celebrated by national critics such as H.L. Mencken for writing in plainspoken language about ordinary people. When the novelist Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, he paid homage to Cather by declaring that she should have won the honor."