Date of Award
Master of Arts
Matthew W. Sivils
Willa Cather often earns attention from environmental literary scholars for her beatific and nostalgic depiction of "the frontier," though in this ecocritical study, I argue that Cather presents a unique, multi-faceted evolution of America's frontier and claims it, once again, as a physical place that deserves salvaging. From 1913-1925, Cather worked within Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier rhetoric, yet she moved America's frontier from a physical landscape of the past to a frontier-of-war in France and finally into the home. With O Pioneers!, Cather offers a nostalgic view of life in Nebraska, though she rejects Turner's creation of a strictly masculine frontier. In One of Ours, Cather explores how feminized characters might exist on a frontier-of-war, but she concludes that such a frontier perpetuates violence and the destruction of art. Writing The Professor's House, Cather offers one more solution to reopening Turner's closed frontier: the home. Working to reopen the frontier on a physical plane rather than a metaphorical one became important to twentieth-century Americans, as it meant the continued development of a unique American character. Beyond humanity though, rediscovering the frontier in any capacity gives power back to the physical environment, and empowering the environment becomes a step toward treating it with respect and seeing it as something worth our care.
Tonya Ann Tienter
Tienter, Tonya Ann, "Cather and the Turner thesis: reimagining America's open frontier" (2015). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 14472.