Willa  Cather
Symposium 2001
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Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, MA
Alexandra Culliton
“Hope and Hopelessness of Immigrant Life: The Novels of Willa Cather”
“Maria Montessori: Her Life and the Method”
Link to Senior Art Thesis


What is a pioneer? Many people instinctively think of America’s frontier. A pioneer is a person who blazes a new, never-before-trodden trail so that others are able to gain something new and better for their lives. Willa Cather and Maria Montessori were two pioneers who lived between the 1870s and the 1950s. Cather is a pioneer in the traditional sense, having moved to Nebraska as a child. Montessori is considered a pioneer in education, having altered its modern form with her unconventional method.

Willa Cather focuses on the lives of immigrant women in many of her novels, recognizing the hope and hopelessness of their lives. These central themes are symbolized by several of Cather’s female characters in My Ántonia, O Pioneers!, and Lucy Gayheart. Their major commonality is hope for the future. Conversely, their difficult lives force them into hopelessness, a lack of options in a desperate life. Each of the women has a different reason for becoming hopeless, including past tragedies, difficulty with love, the desperation of immigrant life, and loneliness. Cather creates a world in which the two states of hope and hopelessness coexist, and the lives of these women take place in this world of the immigrant existence.

Maria Montessori used her unconventional creativity to alter modern education with her method, enjoying great success during her lifetime. This unconventionality aided her when she was confronted with obstacles and challenges that arose during her career. Montessori derived many of her ideas from the work she did with the children from the asylums and in her Casas dei Bambini. The distinctively unconventional Montessori method is comprised of creative philosophy and structured, yet free, learning. Pioneers Montessori and Cather thrived on the frontiers they chose, blazing new trails for all.

Photo credit: http://www.coil.com/~dsmith/wcather-pix.html