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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 1 Chapters 4 5 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 1, Chapters 4–5 | Summary



Part 1, Chapter 4

Three years of drought come upon the Divide, and many people are leaving. Carl Linstrum finds Alexandra Bergson in the garden and tells her his family is going to St. Louis. He is to learn to engrave from a German man in Chicago. Carl explains that his family's leaving will mean one less thing for Alexandra to worry about and take care of. Alexandra responds that Carl is "about the only one that ever helped [her]." Later the same evening, Alexandra tells her brothers about the Linstrums' plans to leave, and they are angry she won't consider leaving, too. The next day, after a lot of thinking, she informs her brothers that she'll go down to have a look at the farms along the river and consider if they should try trading up.

Part 1, Chapter 5

Alexandra Bergson and her younger brother Emil Bergson spend five days inspecting the farms by the river and asking questions. At the end of her time spent there, Alexandra realizes that, rather than buy land by the river, it would be a better investment to buy more property around their current farm—and resell it when the land is worth more in the future. Oscar Bergson and Lou Bergson are worried about the gamble of taking out a mortgage, but Alexandra feels certain.


Carl Linstrum and Alexandra Bergson's relationship shows some development in the beginning of Part 1, Chapter 4. It becomes clear that they both have strong feelings for each other. Alexandra's way of understanding their compatibility is to note that they have "liked the same things and ... liked them together, without anybody else knowing." This scene reveals how much Alexandra and Carl have depended on each other throughout their childhood and adolescence for companionship and support.

Alexandra's character is slowly developed as a "truthful, steadfast," and intelligent woman even though she is specifically described as having "not the least spark of cleverness." However, the author seems to differentiate between cleverness and imagination. Alexandra clearly has a pioneer spirit, and the narrator states that "a pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves."

Again, the natures of Alexandra's brothers—as people who are easily influenced by others—is clear to the reader. They are swayed by opinions where Alexandra is steady. Oscar Bergson and Lou Bergson listen to other people's talk in town about leaving and are influenced by it. They also become increasingly angrier at Alexandra because she will not listen or see the wisdom in what everyone else is doing.

Alexandra has a moment of awakening after going to look at the river farms. She realizes how in love she is with the plains and their farmland and is inspired to invest in more of the surrounding land. Her brothers' argument against this idea is, not surprisingly, that no one else is doing it. They think that because no one else is buying up the land, it must be a bad investment. Alexandra, however, sees the opposite, and Part 1 ends with the foreshadowing of a hopeful future.

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