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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 2 Chapters 1 3 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 2, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 1

It has been 16 years since Alexandra Bergson's father passed away, and her mother has also died. Emil Bergson—21 years old and back from college—is in the fields mowing. Marie Shabata (née Tovesky), now married, stops in her wagon to chat with Emil. She tells him she will dance only one or two dances with him at the upcoming dance, so the other girls don't think Emil is too proud to dance with them. After the mowing is finished, Emil returns home to Alexandra's house, which is now a large farmhouse, not a small log cabin. She has become a wealthy farmer, and her lands are prospering.

Part 2, Chapter 2

Emil Bergson and the workers all have dinner (lunch) at Alexandra Bergson's house. Ivar is there, as well, because Alexandra has been housing and taking care of him since he lost his land. It seems like one of Alexandra's workers, Nelse Jensen, is courting a Swedish girl named Signa who works in Alexandra's kitchen. After lunch, Ivar and Alexandra go into another room to talk. Ivar is worried that Alexandra's brothers or the townsfolk will take him away and put him in an asylum. Alexandra reassures him this will never happen, and she will take care of him.

Part 2, Chapter 3

The following Sunday, Alexandra Bergson's brothers come to dinner. They push her to put Ivar in an asylum, insisting he's a danger to Alexandra and the Swedish girls who work in her kitchen. Alexandra good-naturedly tells her brothers Ivar isn't dangerous, and he is staying. Alexandra promises to buy a piano for Lou Bergson's daughter, Milly, who, Alexandra thinks, looks like their own mother when she was alive. While everyone is outside after dinner and the children are playing, Carl Linstrum arrives. He is just passing through on his way to Alaska to look for gold. The brothers are suspicious of Carl and do not give him a warm welcome, but Alexandra is overjoyed to see him.


Alexandra Bergson's house represents the way she is more connected with nature than interested in domestic life. The house is strangely and unevenly furnished, which illustrates what the narrator explains: "Alexandra's house is the big out-of-doors, and that it is in the soil that she expresses herself best."

The first inkling of romantic tension between Marie Shabata and Emil Bergson develops in Part 2, Chapter 1. There is a moment in their exchange when Emil's feelings become clear although Marie's remain ambiguous. When Marie smiles at Emil, Emil "feels" the smile, but doesn't see it, because he has "looked away with the purpose of not seeing it." From this one exchange, the reader will sense that Emil has feelings for Marie, emotions he cannot show her and desire he tries to repress. Marie, however, seems quite unfazed.

Alexandra's responses to Ivar and her brothers do not demonstrate worry. She seems unperturbed that her brothers are trying to put Ivar in an asylum. In her first interaction with Ivar, he is extremely distraught that he might be sent to an asylum and, simultaneously, feels guilty for being a burden to Alexandra. Alexandra laughingly reassures him they are oddballs together, and she doesn't want him to go anywhere. She is self-possessed and certain in her ability to keep her brothers from taking Ivar away. At the dinner the following Sunday, when her brothers bring up the topic of Ivar going to an asylum (it seems his worries weren't unfounded after all), Alexandra treats them with the same laughing self-confidence she showed to Ivar when he came to her. Her brothers don't seem reassured by her attitude, however, and the matter is dropped only because the subject is changed. The foreshadowing here leaves a residual tension in that the matter is not resolved and will likely be a problem in the future.

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