One of Ours Critical Overview
by Willa Cather

Start Your Free Trial

Download One of Ours Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Critical Overview

Because Willa Cather is now considered one of America’s great fiction writers, all of her work is the subject of extensive critical attention; there is even, for example, a journal titled Cather Studies devoted to her work alone. Numerous book-length studies of Cather exist. Some focus completely on Cather, such as Edward Wagenknecht’s Willa Cather (1994) and Dorothy Tuck McFarland’s Willa Cather (1978). Both of these studies are bio-critical, examining Cather’s life, work, and the relationship between the two. Others place her in historical context, such as The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather, by Josephine Lurie Jessup. Although appraisals of Cather’s quality have shifted over time, her ability to evoke a region has been consistently celebrated. Since the rise of feminist criticism, Cather has also received considerable attention as a representative woman writer.

Mark Robison analyzes the passages describing recreation in One of Ours, placing them in historical context and reviewing the role that leisure and play occupy in constructing and reconstructing Claude’s character. Historical context is also essential in Scott Yenor’s discussion of Cather’s career, as Yenor argues that Cather’s work should be grouped into distinct periods. Yenor feels that Cather’s earlier novels (which are most popularly taught) are more optimistic and that One of Ours is marked by doubts about liberal/secular society, doubts that were multiplied by the effects of World War I. In particular, Yenor sees the character of Claude, pulled towards transcendence but not religion, as articulating these concerns.

Lisa Garvelink likewise sees the character of Claude as poised between periods, but rather than locating them in Cather’s career, Garvelink argues that Claude is caught between an older romantic sensibility and an emerging modernist mindset. Garvelink also reviews how even Cather’s friends were divided over how to respond to the novel, in particular due to the treatment of the war. In fact, Cather’s novel became both target and ammunition in a larger cultural discussion over the value and nature of World War I, and of women’s ability to write about war in general. In his...

(The entire section is 547 words.)