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One of Ours by Willa Cather
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One of Ours

by Willa Cather

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One of Ours by Willa Cather; (4 1/2*)

This book is a beautifully written 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 The Great War, 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 newly found, heartfelt sense of purpose and engagement might be deluded and tragic. The final chapter told from his mother's viewpoint is devastating.

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 you maintain that all important perspective. I think she made it all too easy for conventional minded readers to take this story literally, as a tale of the glories of patriotism and sacrifice for home and country. It's never entirely clear whether and to what extent Cather sees through that horrendous myth. Perhaps that is the genius of the book; to force the reader to draw his own conclusions. Or perhaps as Hemingway always implied, Cather herself was seduced by the romantic, tragically blind view of the nobility of war. But I doubt that. I think that she was brilliant enough to leave us all wondering about that.

The book is pure genius. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Mar 26, 2014 |
I read this book as part of the Virago Great War Theme Read, and really liked it. It is the story of Claude Wheeler, a Nebraska farm boy who is dissatisfied with his life. His parents send him to a religious college, when he would have preferred the State University, and the opportunities he thinks it would have given him. Claude's father gives him the opportunity to run the farm, and a few bad decisions on his part, only deepen his feelings that he is in the wrong place. Various situations and decisions continue to enhance these feelings. As war breaks out in Europe, Claude and his mother begin to devour the information they find in the newspapers, and pull out an unused map to find the places they are reading about. Claude begins to feel a sense of purpose and the need to get into uniform.

"One stormy morning Claude was driving the big wagon to town to get a load of lumber. The roads were beginning to thaw out, and the country was black and dirty looking. Here and there on the dark mud, grey snow crusts lingered, perforated like honeycomb, with wet weedstalks sticking up through them. As the wagon creaked over the high ground just above Frankfort, Claude noticed a brilliant new flag flying from the schoolhouse cupola. He had never seen the flag before when it meant anything but the Fourth of July, or a political rally. Today it was as if he saw it for the first time; no bands, no noise, no orators; a spot of restless colour against the sodden March sky."

This takes place at about 50% of the way through the book. The first half of the book is filled with descriptions of Nebraska and the people that Cather loved. In the second half of the book, war takes over as Claude, now a lieutenant, and his men travel overseas on a troop transport. Even here, Cather's descriptions of the people of France, who have lost almost everything and still have the courage to go on, are beautiful. Claude changes in the second half of the book too, as he interacts with these people and with the men he commands. This is a book about the war, and yet is very un-warlike. It is more a story of people and place. ( )
  NanaCC | Mar 24, 2014 |
‘One of Ours’ is Willa Cather’s 1923 Pulitzer prize winning novel that I read for the ongoing Librarything Virago group’s Great War theme read.
Cather is particularly known for writing about Nebraskan frontier life, and this novel opens in the Nebraskan farming community at around the time that the First World War was starting in Europe. Claude Wheeler is the son of a successful farmer, his future on the farm, seems assured. Many of Claude’s friends and neighbours are European immigrants – several of them Germans, it is some of these friends who help to open Claude’s eyes to other possibilities in life, as he is exposed to lively family gatherings, and people who love the arts. Claude is certain that there is more to life than the world he sees around him on his father’s farm.
“Life was so short that it meant nothing at all unless it were continually reinforced by something that endured; unless the shadows of individual existence came and went against a background that held together.”
Attending a small religious college, rather than the State College he had set his sights on, Claude is dissatisfied with the future he sees ahead of him. As the war in Europe takes hold Claude his mother and Mahailey, who works for them, eagerly pore over newspapers carrying the latest bulletins. When Claude’s father hands over responsibility of the farm to Claude, he feels a terrible weight of responsibility, the errors he makes along the way depress him out of all proportion.
Claude’s sense of dissatisfaction and disappointment only increases when he rashly marries the local miller’s daughter Enid. Having built a lovely new house for himself and Enid, Claude tries to settle down to the life of a Nebraskan farmer. However Enid is far more interested in prohibition work, quietly envying her sister’s missionary work in China, than she is in either her new husband or their home, leaving him to eat a cold supper while she goes off to meetings in town. When news arrives that Enid’s sister is sick, she rushes off to China to help – leaving her new husband to move back to the family farm house with his mother. What Claude sees as his abandonment by his young wife, embarrasses him, Claude imagines the entire community must surely be talking about his situation.
By this time America has finally entered the war, and this gives Claude his chance, his chance to finally do something. At a time when very few khaki clad men have yet to be seen around the small Nebraskan town where he is known – Claude is quick to join up. Initially used to train other men, Claude is eventually on his way to France in the summer of 1917 – aboard a ship struck down by the dreadful flu epidemic. Claude assists with the treatment of his stricken men, and revels in an unexpected sense of freedom and usefulness. Arriving in France with their numbers hugely depleted Claude and his comrades find a France heavily scarred by three years of war. The trenches await them, and Claude and his friends are soon caught up in the horrors of trench warfare.
I have read that Cather’s depictions of war have been criticised even accused of being too positively portrayed – I find that hard to understand, for me at least, Cather’s descriptions are always vivid – her characters realistic and very human. I found Willa Cather’s France of that last year of war a place where war had become a way of life. Where people had already paid the price of war again and again, and where fresh young American soldiers arriving, with limited French at their disposal, have to quickly learn the ways of war and what it means, while living alongside the local people.
“One night he dreamed that he was at home, out in the ploughed fields, where he could see nothing but the furrowed brown earth, stretching from horizon to horizon. Up and down it moved a boy, with a plough and two horses. At first he thought it was his brother Ralph; but on coming nearer he saw it was himself, and he was full of fear for this boy. Poor Claude, he would never, never get away; he was going to miss everything! While he was struggling to speak to Claude, and warn him, he awoke.”
Claude Wheeler’s sense of disillusionment leads him to make the decisions he does and ultimately take him to the battlefields of France. The ending is necessarily poignant, how could it be otherwise – and give much food for thought. ‘One of Ours’ is a beautifully written novel; I especially loved the longer section set in Nebraska. Cather is adept at beautiful descriptions of the rural landscape she knew so well, and in her memorable characters, are the mix of people that made up those communities. This may not be my favourite Willa Cather (I will only know which that is, when I have read more) but it is a fascinating novel – which is about far more than America’s involvement in World War One. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Mar 14, 2014 |
I LOVED "My Antonia" with all-the-five-stars love! "One of Ours" just did not grab me in the same way. ( )
  countrylife | Jan 31, 2014 |
Claude Wheeler was ill-suited as a Nebraska farm boy. His longings were realized after he entered a one-sided marriage and became obsessed with the news of WWI. When he decided he must enter the fray rather than live his life in shame because he did nothing to help innocent people, it was as if a different book was being written. The latter part of the book was about a hero rather than an angst riddled dreamer.

When an idealist goes to war, something must change in him. Claude gladly gave up his malaise and assumed responsibility for the young men in his charge. He showed endurance under formidable conditions; he showed courage in the face of danger. I rather liked this change. I began thinking of him by his rightful name rather than "Clod" which I thought more descriptive in the beginning.

Willa Cather received the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1923. She was both praised and reviled for writing a war story. I think she did a fine job of exposing the stink and scourge of war as well as portraying the story of a young man who found his true calling as a soldier. This was another beautifully written book by a revered author. ( )
1 vote Donna828 | Jan 14, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, HermioneIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Claude Wheeler opened his eyes before the sun was up and vigorously shook his younger brother, who lay in the other half of the same bed.
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Book description
Published in 1922, and winner of the Pullitzer Prize, One of Ours describes a young man's struggle to find a meaning in life beyond the increasing materialism of the Nebraskan farming community. In the figure of Claude Wheeler, Willa Cather looks back to an idealism seemingly discarded by twentieth-century values. Since childhood Claude has had an intuitive faith in "something splendid" and feels at odds with his contemporaries whose aspirations are more worldly. The First World War - with its call for heroic action - offers Claude the opportunity to forget his prosperous farm and his marriage of compromise. He readily enlists and in France discovers the comradeship and understanding he has lacked. But the message of this sensitive novel is ambivalent: whilst War may demand altruism, its essence is destructive.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679737448, Paperback)

Willa Cather's Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative of the making of a young American soldier

Claude Wheeler, the sensitive, aspiring protagonist of this beautifully modulated novel, resembles the youngest son of a peculiarly American fairy tale. His fortune is ready-made for him, but he refuses to settle for it. Alienated from his crass father and pious mother, all but rejected by a wife who reserves her ardor for missionary work, and dissatisfied with farming, Claude is an idealist without an ideal to cling to. It is only when his country enters the First World War that Claude finds what he has been searching for all his life.

In One of Ours Willa Cather explores the destiny of a grandchild of the pioneers, a young Nebraskan whose yearnings impel him toward a frontier bloodier and more distant than the one that vanished before his birth. In doing so, she creates a canny and extraordinarily vital portrait of an American psyche at once skeptical and romantic, restless and heroic.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:16 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Willa Cather's Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative of the making of a young American soldier Claude Wheeler, the sensitive, aspiring protagonist of this beautifully modulated novel, resembles the youngest son of a peculiarly American fairy tale. His fortune is ready-made for him, but he refuses to settle for it. Alienated from his crass father and pious mother, all but rejected by a wife who reserves her ardor for missionary work, and dissatisfied with farming, Claude is an idealist without an ideal to cling to. It is only when his country enters the First World War that Claude finds what he has been searching for all his life.… (more)

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