One of Ours
By Willa Cather
(Prometheus Books, Paperback, 9781591021438, 472pp.)
Publication Date: May 1, 2004
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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.