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Literature Study GuidesO PioneersPart 4 Chapters 1 3 Summary

O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 4, Chapters 1–3 | Summary



Part 4, Chapter 1

Alexandra Bergson and Emil Bergson go to the French Church for a church supper, and Emil wears an outfit he brought back from Mexico. Marie Shabata is there, telling fortunes and dressed in traditional Bohemian clothing. Marie hangs on Emil's words at supper as he describes his adventures in Mexico. Afterward, Emil auctions off one of the turquoise studs from his shirt, and Marie is angry that her husband, Frank Shabata, won't bid on it. Marie tells fortunes and turns out to be good at it. Frank broods jealously on the sidelines, not jealous of anyone in particular, just angry to see his wife so well liked. When the boys turn the lights out for a game, Emil is in Marie's tent having his fortune told. As soon as the darkness descends, they are kissing. Later, Alexandra notices Marie looking strained and goes to put an arm around her. Marie pulls back, and Alexandra is confused and hurt.

Part 4, Chapter 2

Signa and Nelse Jensen get married. After their wedding supper, the bride and groom lead their new set of milk cows (a gift from Alexandra Bergson) home, accompanied by Ivar and a wagon of wedding presents. Marie Shabata leaves, as well, but Emil Bergson runs to catch up with her. Emil asks her to run away with him, but Marie refuses. Marie tells him that one of them must go away, and since she can't go anywhere, it must be Emil. Emil tells her he will leave if Marie admits to loving him, and she does.

Part 4, Chapter 3

Emil Bergson is packing in preparation to leave for Omaha, and Alexandra Bergson sits sewing his nightshirt. He plans to study law with a Swedish lawyer and then go on to law school in Michigan. They talk about their father, John Bergson, and Emil asks his sister questions about him. Emil wonders if Swedes are conceited in general, but Alexandra protests that their father and uncle were both good people.


In the first chapter of Part 4, the tension created by Frank Shabata's character is building. He is portrayed as increasingly irrational and jealous, particularly in regard to his wife. Marie Shabata is insightful enough to know Frank hasn't really changed, only her perception of him has. She admits that in the beginning of their relationship, she saw him not as he really was, but "as [she] wanted him to be." Marie takes onto herself a lot of the blame for their relationship instead of laying the responsibility for Frank's actions at Frank's own feet. This is a common response from those who experience emotional abuse or manipulation. In fact, Frank's character is described as someone who potentially "got more satisfaction out of feeling himself abused than he would have got out of being loved." Frank is increasingly being shown to be the type of person who isn't even necessarily seeking love but lets himself take pleasure in feeling victimized, even when no abuse is happening.

However, as much as Cather is setting up Frank Shabata to look like the villain, later events will wring out more complexity than simply faulting Frank Shabata. After all, Marie Shabata is not entirely innocent in encouraging Emil, and in this chapter, she crosses the line and kisses Emil. Cather will show—in Frank Shabata's hindsight—that there was a reason Frank was jealous; his wife did love another man. Cather does not lean on simple romantic notions to carry the story but goes much deeper.

The tension is also building between Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata, who make their final decision to live separate lives. Marie finally confesses her love to Emil, but she doesn't see running away with him as a valid option for herself. Although she tries to reconcile herself with her situation, she becomes increasingly more agitated and unhappy. Alexandra seems to bear the brunt of Marie's irritation and dissatisfaction although she doesn't know what is going on. Perhaps Marie shows her irritation around Alexandra because Alexandra is so connected with Emil, who is the source of Marie's discontent.

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