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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 1 Chapters 1 3 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 1, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 1

The town of Hanover is a small town on the Nebraska prairie with an assortment of houses, a small downtown street, and a railway station. Little Emil Bergson sits on the steps of a store, crying because his kitten has been chased up a pole and won't come down. His sister, Alexandra Bergson, comes out of a shop and goes to get help from her friend Carl Linstrum, a 15-year-old boy who is her neighbor. Carl climbs up the pole and rescues the kitten. He loads up Alexandra's horse team while she goes inside the general store with Emil to get warm. Emil plays with a little Bohemian girl named Marie Tovesky, who shares her candy with him. Carl and Alex drive the wagon home with Emil asleep in the hay in the wagon.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Alexandra Bergson's father, John Bergson, is dying, and he calls his two older sons and Alexandra in to talk with him. He tells them to deal fairly with one another and that Alexandra will be tasked with running the farm. The boys must follow her guidance and help her on the farm. He instructs them all to let their mother plant fruit trees and make a garden, activities Mrs. Bergson favors since she misses her homeland.

Part 1, Chapter 3

Alexandra Bergson and her brothers, Emil Bergson, Lou Bergson, and Oscar Bergson, take the wagon to see Ivar, a local horse doctor who many people say is crazy. They pick up Carl Linstrum along the way, and the boys joke about Ivar's peculiar habits. When they arrive, Ivar makes sure they don't have any guns. He doesn't eat meat and doesn't believe in killing things. Alexandra wants to purchase a hammock from Ivar, but she has another reason for coming to see him. She asks for advice about her pigs because many of their neighbors are losing their hogs, and she wants to know how to keep hers healthy. Ivar tells Alexandra to make a better pen for them in the sorghum patch and give them fresh food and water. Alexandra's brothers Lou and Oscar overhear and don't like Ivar giving Alexandra strange ideas, but Alexandra returns home and begins to plot her new pig pen.


Much of these first chapters focus on introducing the town, the nature of the space where the characters have settled, and the natures of the characters themselves. Alexandra Bergson is described as a woman of "Amazonian fierceness" even when she is young. She is a few years older than Carl Linstrum, who is 15 at the start of the story, yet she is portrayed as a fully grown woman who is capable and sure of herself. Her father and brothers seem to think of her as a responsible adult woman, as well, because her father leaves the running of the farm to her before he dies.

Alexandra seems not only mature but also clever and open-minded. She considers the opinions and ideas of the people around her. Unlike her brothers, she doesn't make fun of Ivar or discount his advice just because he is a little odd. Alexandra seems to have her own relationship with nature and the Nebraska plains, which allows her to connect with Ivar. Carl also abstains from making fun of Ivar and has mostly kind things to say about him if he says anything at all. This similarity is a hint at the compatibility between Alexandra and Carl—they are both good-natured and not quick to judge others.

Alexandra's older brothers act more like the teenage boys they are. They make fun of Ivar and say he's crazy, and they can't see the value in his lifestyle or his advice. The brothers seem to care most about the opinions of others, which contributes to how they treat Ivar. They hear other people talking about him and treating him as though he's crazy, so they follow that example. The boys dislike doing "anything different from their neighbors" and see any difference as something "[making] them conspicuous and [giving] people a chance to talk about them."

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