Willa Cather

One Of Ours

  • 52-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 5 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with an MFA in Creative Writing
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One Of Ours Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 52-page guide for “One Of Ours” by Willa Cather includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Masculinity and Becoming a Man and The Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Belonging.

One of Ours is a 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Willa Cather, an American author best known for depictions of life in the Great Plains. This novel follows the personal evolution of a young man named Claude Wheeler, dividing his story into two parts: his life on a family farm in Nebraska, and his experiences as a soldier in France during World War I.

Exploring themes of youthful restlessness, the search for meaning, and the sense of purposefulness found in wartime, One of Ours is among both Cather’s most well acclaimed and widely criticized works. This guide refers to the 2004 Project Gutenberg version of One of Ours (eBook #2369). 

Plot Summary 

One of Ours begins on a family farm along Lovely Creek near Frankfort, Nebraska. The novel’s 19-year-old protagonist, Claude Wheeler, feels intellectually distanced from the farm laborers, the townsfolk, and his family members. Claude disagrees with his father’s capitalistic values, his elder brothers’ self-centered materialism, and his mother’s unquestioning devotion to Christianity. Seeking a broader perspective, he transitions from courses at the religious Temple school to courses at Nebraska State University. There, he befriends a young intellectual named Julius Erlich and spends time with the Erlichs, a cultured German family.

Claude’s studies are interrupted by his father’s decision to purchase a ranch in Colorado. His father and his brother, Ralph, move to Colorado to take care of the ranch, leaving Claude to take care of the farm in Nebraska. Though Claude adapts to the physical demands of farm life, he is mentally and emotionally distracted and feels his life lacks meaning. One day, he loses control of his mule team while plowing the fields and badly injures his face. While he is bedbound and recovering, a local girl named Enid Royce regularly comes to visit him. Claude becomes closely attached to Enid, believing that she may give him a sense of purpose in life.

Claude and Enid marry soon after he recovers from his accident. He soon learns, however, that they are a poorly matched couple. Enid is very religious and reticent about engaging in physical affection with her husband. She spends most of her time away from home, participating in ministry and Prohibition-related campaigning. When Enid learns that her missionary sister, Carrie, is sick in China, she decides to move to China and help take care of her.

With Enid gone, Claude becomes increasingly interested in developments of the Great War in Europe. He decides to enlist in the military and becomes a lieutenant after completing his basic training. Along with 2,500 fellow soldiers, he sets sail for France on a ship called the Anchises. On the Anchises, Claude befriends a Canadian Air Force aviator named Victor Morse, a worldly, thrill-seeking young man who has developed a British accent despite being from Iowa. Along the way, an influenza epidemic breaks out, and over 30 soldiers die aboard the ship. Rather than become dispirited by this loss, however, Claude learns to thrive under pressure. He is promoted to the role of medical assistant, and he finds a sense of purpose in his struggles.

When the troops arrive in France, Claude’s commanding officer pairs him with a fellow lieutenant named David Gerhardt. Before the war, Gerhardt was a professional violinist, and Claude feels a mix of admiration and envy toward him. Gerhardt introduces Claude to the Jouberts, an elderly French couple who lost two sons to the war. The Jouberts give them a warm welcome and treat them like family.

As they march from trench to trench, Claude’s unit observes the tragic ways war has touched civilians and soldiers alike. The troops help a starving French widow with two children. They encounter underage soldiers and see child prisoners being executed. Claude also learns that Victor was shot down by eight German planes, and died in a spectacular crash after shooting three planes himself. Though saddened by his friend’s death, Claude takes comfort in the idea that he died heroically, and he continues to believe that war imbues men with a noble purpose.

Claude is eventually placed in charge of a company at the Boar’s Head section of the Moltke trench. They quickly become engaged in a dangerous battle with the Germans. During battle, he sends Gerhardt back with a message and prays that his friend survives, begging God to spare him and take his life instead. As the Germans advance upon them, Claude is shot and killed. He dies without learning that Gerhardt has been killed as well. Though Claude dies young, his heroic legend lives on with his family and community in Nebraska.

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