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 yound 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.
My first introduction to Willa Cather was reading The Professor’s House in college, and the middle act of the book, set in the American southwest in a place evocative of Mesa Verde, entranced me, because she was writing a landscape I had grown up in and around, and so deftly it felt like I was back there. I immediately picked up Death Comes for the Archbishop, and sometime after read her prairie trilogy, but never made it around to One of Ours until I began this project.
The first half of the novel is much akin to many of her prairie novels: it follows the protagonist, Claude Wheeler, as he struggles against a sort of oppression from his father and brothers, and later, his wife. Interested in his studies and the friends that he is making at college, that joyous time of his life is cut short when his father purchases land in Colorado and places Claude in charge of the Nebraska farm, forcing him out of college and away from his new friends. Trying to make the best of it, and falling in love, Claude finds himself married to a woman he soon realizes is cold and emotionless to him, more interested in expending her passions in the work of prohibition and Christian missions.