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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 2 Chapters 4 6 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 2, Chapters 4–6 | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 4

Carl Linstrum and Alexandra Bergson sit in the garden in the moonlight and talk. Alexandra asks Carl why he's so dissatisfied with himself, and Carl replies that he is discontent with his work and feels untethered. He's grown tired of living in a city, without feeling connected to anyone or owning anything. Alexandra says she'd rather have her younger brother Emil Bergson live in the city than "grow hard and heavy" from staying and working the land. They chat about Marie Shabata (formerly Marie Tovesky), and it's revealed that she ran away from home to marry Frank when she was 18. Alexandra likes Marie, although she doesn't much like Frank, and was happy to sell the old Linstrum place to the couple.

Part 2, Chapter 5

Carl Linstrum gets up early and sneaks out of the house to walk in the field that used to be his father's land. He remembers a young Alexandra Bergson, in the past, coming to the same spot between their properties to milk the cows, and in his memory she is beautiful and bright. He walks over to his old pasture, now belonging to the Shabatas, and sees Emil Bergson with Marie Shabata down by the pond. Emil shoots five ducks when they fly up from the pond, and Marie becomes upset to see them dead. They never notice Carl, and he heads back to the house for breakfast.

Part 2, Chapter 6

Alexandra Bergson and Carl Linstrum visit Marie Shabata. Marie shows them an apricot branch, and they tell her the story of how, many years ago, the apricot trees were planted. Marie tells a story about how when she was a little girl, Carl drew her a picture in the drugstore, and her uncle bought her a toy. Then Frank Shabata arrives and complains to Marie about a neighbor. Alexandra and Carl leave, and Frank and Marie go inside their house. Frank is angry and shouts about the neighbor's hogs getting into his wheat, and Marie tries to calm him down. She goes to the kitchen to make him coffee, but he is asleep when she comes back.


The scene between Carl Linstrum and Alexandra Bergson illuminates how it is human nature for people to be dissatisfied with whatever it is they have. Carl wishes for his old life in some way because he feels disconnected from things after living in the big city. Alexandra is content with her own life but wants for Emil Bergson what Carl has, even after Carl tells her how dissatisfied he is. They both reminisce about the beauty of the old wild prairie even though it was inhospitable and nearly drove everyone off the land. There is something beautiful and masterful in the staging of all these contradictions, highlighting humans' tendency to romanticize the past and long for the life they don't have.

When Carl Linstrum gets up in the morning and sees Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata in the field, he understands immediately that there is something going on beneath the surface. Although the pair doesn't engage in improper behavior or show any unusual degree of affection, it is clear something is developing between them. Carl can tell just from watching them that something deeper is going on. Cather writes that Carl "had not overheard much of their dialogue, but he felt the import of it." Again, the reader catches a glimpse of pain in Emil as he looks at Marie with "a curious, sharp young bitterness" in his eyes. The use of words such as sharp and bitterness sets an ominous tone of their developing relationship.

Marie's husband, Frank Shabata, is painted, stroke by stroke, to be a violent, unreasonable character. This combination, with the budding love between Emil and Marie, does not bode well for anyone. Frank isn't shown mistreating his wife, but he seems capable of it. He becomes angry at her when she tries to soothe him and explain why their old neighbor is having trouble keeping control of her hogs. Marie seems to know to keep out of Frank's way when he is in a rage, for she leaves him to make coffee. She also clearly feels sorry for him, which indicates that she doesn't necessarily resent him and probably still loves him.

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