I Like __ A Lot
Dress Up with Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!
Like Disney movies, creamy coffee desserts, and many other things, Willa Cather is a terrifyingly terrific treasure. Being a boy, it’s somewhat bothersome to admit to admiring a girl, especially since nearly all the boys the I look up to don’t really look up to girls. “Woman is natural, that is to say abominable,” declares French boy poet Charles Baudelaire in his Intimate Journals. “She is always vulgar; the opposite, in fact, of the Dandy.” Then there’s the American boy novelist Norman Mailer. In An American Dream, Norman’s semi-doppelganger throws his ex-wife out the bathroom window after she admits to partaking in the type of act that Dan Savage and Frank Bruni revere. But, as with Emily D, Charlotte B, Annie F, and tons more, Willa is simply too wonderful to cast aside just because she’s the opposite of a boy. Her stories and novels are grumpy, moody, severe, ascetic, and fashionable (Antonia’s friend Lena becomes a dressmaker in San Francisco and Professor St. Peter composes his Spanish adventurer study in the same room as a seamstress).
As for the characters Willa compels, they’re cuttingly on the button in their evaluations of people-centric societies. Reflecting upon his prior city life, the eponymous boy of Neighbour Rosicky remarks:
In the country, if you had a mean neighbour, you could keep off his land and make him keep off yours. But in the city, all the foulness and misery and brutality of your neighbours was part of your life. The worst things he had come upon in his journey through the world were human, — depraved and poisonous specimens of man.
What to do when beset by corrupt, indelicate, inconsiderate creatures? Why… destroy, of course! Violence is enthralling, enlightening, and entertaining. It’s allotted a starring role in Willa’s world. In My Antonia, Jim slugs a rattlesnake to death in front of Antonia, her father also hangs himself, and her family is friends with a couple of Russian boys who were ostracized by practically every European country for throwing a newlywed couple off a sled and to the wolves so that they themselves wouldn’t be eaten. Some stories start out serene only to become violent later on. The Enchanted Bluff is about a bunch of boys on a camping trip. The trip’s tranquility is toppled when one of the boys tells of a Cliff-Dweller society whose men were massacred and whose women and children were left to starve. Keeping children’s tummies empty is obviously wrong, but violence is right. There are few better means to upending uppity control (i.e liberal America) than violence, and there is such an abundance of this trenchant tool in Willa’s tales.
Basically, Willa is sort of one of the best. Formerly, I dressed up The Professor, but someone as sensational as the Nebraska girl certainly deserves to have her universes adorned much more than once, which is why I’ll now deck the characters from O Pioneers!
First to be adorned is the star of the story, Alexandra Bergson. When the reader is introduced to Alexandra, she’s comforting her little brother who’s quite upset because he’s beloved kitty is stuck in a tree. A good big sister, Alexandra is also keenly pretty. Her “shinning mass of hair” and “fringe of reddish-yellow curls blowing out from under her cap” catches the heed of a little traveling man. Since Alexandra is a proper girl, she cares more about her little brother than the lewd man, and, to showcase her ladylike priorities, she “stabs him with a glance of Amazonian fierceness.” Similar to Sarah Palin, Alexandra’s a girl you’d want to avoid upsetting. Her ailing father picks her over her two brothers to govern the family farm since Alexandra is “intelligent.” Just as Sarah turned an Alaskan governorship into superstardom, Alexandra transforms land that her older brothers desperately wanted to sell into a gold mine.
Deliciously disciplined, Alexandra allows herself “one fancy.” On Sunday mornings, while lying in bed, she shuts her eyes and has “an illusion of being lifted up bodily and carried lightly by some one very strong.” This boy of super strength carries her away “as if she were a sheaf of wheat.” Such a situation occurs often in splendid stories. Peter Pan carries Tiger Lily away from ill-intentioned Captain Hook. Prior to that, he rescues Wendy from the misguided Lost Boys. In Sleeping Beauty, Prince Phillip ends the naughty fairy’s spell by kissing Princess Aurora. What should Alexandra wear when her prince comes? This Rochas slip dress fits. It’s comfortable enough to sleep in (as Alexandra will be in bed when the boy arrives) but it’s pretty enough to make a forceful first impression.
Being straight boys, Alexandra’s older brothers, as one might surmise, are contemptible. Though they initially advised Alexandra to sell the land, later on, after its rich soil has become evident, they prevent her from marrying the boy of her choosing by threatening to use the law to take the land that she labored so much on away from her. Not only are Oscar and Lou boorish blockheads, but they’re ugly as well. Lou’s face is “thin and shrewd and wrinkled about the eyes.” (A mug that probably has a lot in common with John Updike’s.) As for Oscar, he’s “thick and dull.” The two uncouths trouble a princess (Alexandra) as well their little brother (Emil) for receiving education at a University. Enemies of pretty girls and learning don’t deserve to live. That’s why they should sport this John Rocha “question mark” top. What will happen is Seung-Hui Cho, that vexed Virginia Tech boy, will spot them and, enraged that his pseudonym has been stolen, will murder them using a Glock 19.
One of Alexandra’s bestest friends is Marie Tovesky. She graduated high school at 16 and, according to Willa, is “the prettiest Bohemian girl in Omaha.” If you look into Marie’s eyes you’ll find a “brown iris, curiously slashed with yellow, the color of sunflower honey, or of old amber.” At a picnic, the comely girl with the possessing peepers meets Frank, a bad-boy type who wears silk hats and an expression of discontent. The restless coxcomb has Marie hearing wedding bells. To prevent such a thing from taking place, Marie’s daddy delivers her to a convent, where Marie sneaks in “no less than a dozen photographs” of her prince.
The second Bambi Muse baby despot, Baby Marie-Antoinette, utterly understands Marie’s infatuation with Frank. Baby Marie-Antoinette herself is presently obsessed with that cute, curly-haired Boston Marathon blower-upper Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Why do some boys absolutely consume certain creatures? Could it be because beatific boys, similar to competent dictators, inevitably exert a totalitarian-like control? Maybe.
Obviously, no convent can keep Marie from her ruler. Once she turns 18, Marie marches out of the convent and runs away with Frank. For their elopement, Marie must wear this Dolce & Gabbana blazer and skirt. The black and white prison stripes make it vividly clear that Marie is Frank’s prisoner and Frank is Marie’s warden and all of this is the antithesis of abominable.
But do Marie and her husband actually live lovingly ever after? Will Alexandra ever find a boy to marry? Or do things take place that lead to turmoil? To find out, you should, if you haven’t already, read Willa’s book.