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One of Ours

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Wikipedia article




'One of Ours' is a novel by Willa Cather that won the 1923 Pulitzer Prize. It tells the story of the life of Claude Wheeler, a Nebraska native around the turn of the 20th century. The son of a successful Midwestern farmer and an intensely pious mother, he is guaranteed a comfortable livelihood. Nevertheless, Wheeler views himself as a victim of his father's success and his own inexplicable malaise.

Plot summary



While attending Temple College, Claude tried to convince his parents that attending the State University would give him a better education. His parents ignore his pleas and Claude continues at the Christian college. After a football game, Claude meets and befriends the Erlich family, quickly adapting his own world perception to the Erlichs' love of music, free-thinking, and debate. His career at university and his friendship with the Erlichs are dramatically interrupted, however, when his father expands the family farm and Claude is obligated to leave university and operate part of the family farm.

Once pinned to the farm, Claude marries Enid Royce, a childhood friend. His notions of love and marriage are quickly devastated when it becomes apparent that Enid is more interested in political activism and Christian missionary work than she is in loving and caring for Claude. When Enid departs for China to care for her missionary sister, who has suddenly fallen ill, Claude moves back to his family's farm. As World War I begins in Europe, the family is fixated on every development from overseas. When the United States decides to enter the war, Claude enlists in the US Army.

Finally believing he has found a purpose in life - beyond the drudgery of farming and marriage - Claude revels in his freedom and new responsibilities. Despite an influenza epidemic and the continuing hardships of the battlefield, Claude Wheeler nonetheless has never felt as though 'he' has mattered more. His pursuit of vague notions of purpose and principle culminates in a ferocious front-line encounter with an overwhelming German onslaught.

Major themes



The novel is divided thematically into two parts: the first half in Nebraska, where Claude Wheeler struggles to find his life's purpose and is left ultimately disappointed; and in France, where his pursuit of purpose is vindicated. A romantic unfulfilled by marriage and an idealist without an ideal to cling to, Wheeler fulfills his romantic idealism on the brutal battlefields of 1918 France.

'One of Ours' is thus a portrait of a peculiarly American personality: it is the story of a young man born after the American frontier has vanished, yet whose quintessentially American restlessness seeks redemption on a frontier far bloodier and more distant than that which his forefathers had already tamed.

Literary significance and criticism



*In a letter to Edmund Wilson, Ernest Hemingway ridiculed Cather for using 'The Birth of a Nation' as a source for her battle scenes.Christopher Nealon, 'Foundling: Lesbian and Gay Historical Emotion Before Stonewall', Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2001, page 75 H. L. Mencken suggested it read like "a Hollywood movie", while Sinclair Lewis argued the soldiers were unconvincing violinists in disguise.

References




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