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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 2 Chapters 10 12 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 2, Chapters 10–12 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 10

While Carl Linstrum and Emil Bergson are at the fair, Alexandra Bergson's brothers, Lou Bergson and Oscar Bergson, come to visit her. They tell her they think Carl is after her money, and she shouldn't give it to him by marrying him. They also claim they've done most of the work on the farm over the years, so the family's prosperity is their doing. In their minds, "The property of a family belongs to the men of the family, because they are held responsible, and because they do the work." Basically, they claim Alexandra, as a woman, has no right to her own land, has done no relevant work over the years, and shouldn't marry Carl if she wants to. Alexandra becomes angry at them and tells them they should learn what the law says about her property rights. She reminds them that her prosperity happened after Oscar and Lou married and the land was split evenly among them. She also tells her brothers they will never have any influence over her again.

Part 2, Chapter 11

Emil Bergson comes home and talks with his sister, Alexandra Bergson. He is surprised, and a little appalled, to find out Alexandra might actually want to marry Carl Linstrum, but Emil tells her he supports her in whatever she wishes to do. Then Emil informs Alexandra that he is going to move to Mexico to work and to explore his possibilities—to find out what he wants to do with his life. Emil goes upstairs to his bedroom and thinks about Marie Shabata, revealing that he's been in love with her for two years now.

Part 2, Chapter 12

Finally, after everyone else has left or gone to bed, Carl Linstrum comes back to Alexandra Bergson's house. Her brothers Lou Bergson and Oscar Bergson have, apparently, had a talk with Carl and made him feel ashamed for thinking he can live off Alexandra's money. As Alexandra expected would happen, Carl has decided to leave her. He feels he must make something of himself and have his own money before they can be together. Alexandra wants him to stay, but Carl refuses. He says he is leaving immediately and asks Alexandra to wait for him for one year while he looks for gold in Alaska.


Alexandra Bergson's brothers finally overstep the line they've been threatening to cross since the beginning of the novel. The reader is likely expecting the conflict to come through Ivar being sent away by the brothers interfering, but the tension takes a turn and comes against Alexandra's chance for happiness through love with Carl Linstrum, which is a more vicious and personal assault on Alexandra. Lou Bergson and Oscar Bergson are threatened by Alexandra's success because they are jealous and because they are embarrassed that the family success should be at the hands of a woman. In their usual way, they claim Alexandra shouldn't marry Carl Linstrum because of what other people might think. They are also greedy, wanting what Alexandra has built to eventually become theirs or their children's after her death.

In this scene, Alexandra displays anger for the first time in the novel because she understands on a deep level that her brothers have always looked to her life and what she has made of it as something they ultimately will possess and have a right to. Up to this point, she has taken a genial attitude about her brothers' weaknesses and character flaws, brushing them off as inconsequential. This time, however, they go too far, and she becomes so angry that she would rather be dead than see the truth about their natures. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to overcome this breach in the family or if it will extend to their wives and children, the nieces and nephews for whom Alexandra cares very much.

Emil Bergson is the next to come to the house and talk with Alexandra. While he doesn't approve of her marrying Carl Linstrum, mostly because Carl is younger than she is, Emil responds very differently from his other two brothers. Clearly Emil really cares about his sister's happiness. At the moment, however, he is too distracted to really listen or be present to her situation with Carl because he can't stop thinking about Marie. Although he never says so explicitly, it is clear his desire to leave the farm and spend some time in Mexico is motivated by a need to get away from Marie Shabata for a while.

Alexandra shows an immensely profound understanding of herself, the way the world and materiality works, and the transient nature of human life. In her final conversation with Carl, she insists that any achievements or money he is leaving her to pursue instead will be of no value to her. The companionship he can offer her is far more valuable. She argues that something could happen to either one of them in the time Carl is out seeking his fortune, and they could miss their opportunity for happiness. Carl, though, is driven by his shame—and Alexandra's brothers shaming him only moments ago—to prove something to himself and to Alexandra, and he will not be swayed by her arguments. This insistence points to Carl being honorable and genuinely loving Alexandra.

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