Nancy Moore

Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Nancy Davis, Roy Miller, Will Fridy

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


Willa Cather believed very firmly in two things: individuality and art. The purpose of this study is to show Cather's intense dedication to the pursuit of individual artistic achievement as depicted by the heroines of seven Cather novels: O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), My Antonia (1918), A Lost Lady (1923), My Mortal Enemy (1926), Lucy Gayheart (1935), and Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940). Cather was concerned about whether or not woman as artist could succeed or be forever bound by sexual limitation. She devoted her life to the worship of art and the belief that one must pursue that spark within, regardless of its form, whether in either the traditional role or in a professional one. The essence of Cather's belief in the individual is the firm affirmation contained in all her works that the real sin against life and against oneself is the failure to realize one's potentialities. She insists upon complete self-sufficiency and self-reliance in devoting oneself to following the only possible life-course one can follow. All of the women discussed in this paper are deeply individual and independent and all are set against Cather's criteria for the artist. They either succeed because of their "dedicated spirit," or they fail because their spirits can not withstand the adversity set against them. Cather's test of greatness in her heroines was the devotion to a life-course that corresponded to the artist's search for beauty in her work. Alexandra Bergson, Thea Kronberg, Antonia Shimerda, and Lucy Gayheart succeed because they seek a worthy channel for their creative vitality and struggle against the mediocrity that threatens the spirit of the individual. Marian Forrester, Myra Henshawe, and Sapphira Colbert fail because their independent spirits thrive, not on the search for beauty in personal fulfillment, but on transient materialism and tarnished images. The differences in the heroines are not in their strength and endurance, but in the goals they set for themselves. Whether she succeeds or fails, each woman still maintains the right to be "herself" in her own inimitable way.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America