From Willa Cather’s first novel to her last, the railroad served as a powerful figure for modernity, westward expansion, and class ascent. Advantaged by her family’s arrival in Nebraska during boom times and expanded access to job markets and inspirational vacations via the railroads, Cather provides many friendly briefs on their behalf. Yet in confronting women’s uncertain status in the bourgeois narrative of ascent and displaying a complex mixture of attitudes toward Native Americans and the working classes, Cather’s railroad-age fiction came ultimately to stage a multifaceted, if ambivalent, critique of class inequality in US culture.


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