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O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Part 5, Chapters 1–3 | Summary

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Summary

Part 5, Chapter 1

Alexandra Bergson has left the house early in the morning without telling anyone where she is going. As a storm rolls in, Signa shows up in the barn to ask for Ivar's help finding Alexandra. They discuss how worried they both are about Alexandra, who has been in mourning and barely eats or functions without Signa's prodding. Ivar tells Signa not to worry too much and to be patient.

Ivar finds Alexandra at Emil Bergson's grave and takes her home, putting her to bed with ginger tea. Alexandra again has her vision of being carried by someone very strong across the fields. Alexandra stays in bed for a few days, ruminating on visiting Frank Shabata in prison. She feels it is her duty to try to help him since he is the only one left anything can be done for. His life has been devastated by Emil and Marie Shabata's infidelity, which is something Alexandra feels is more of a wrong than what Frank did to them, considering Frank's jealous nature. She feels guilty that Frank should take all the blame when she was so blind to what was going on and even accidentally encouraged it by asking Emil to spend time with Marie and help her with tasks on the Shabatas' farm.

Part 5, Chapter 2

Alexandra Bergson leaves Hanover to visit Frank in prison in Lincoln, Nebraska. After eating dinner at her hotel, she takes a walk around the university campus where Emil Bergson studied, and she talks to a few students. The following morning Alexandra goes to the prison, and they bring Frank Shabata into the warden's office to speak with her. Frank has begun to forget English, and his behavior is erratic. Alexandra reassures him repeatedly that she wants to help him and doesn't blame him for what happened. When she arrives back at the hotel, a telegram from Carl Linstrum is waiting for her. He has arrived at her farmhouse in Hanover and will wait for her to come back from Lincoln. Alexandra reads his telegram and bursts into tears.

Part 5, Chapter 3

The same evening Carl Linstrum's telegram arrives in Lincoln, Alexandra Bergson takes the first train home to Hanover, arriving early the next morning. She and Carl spend the morning talking and then take an afternoon walk in the fields. Carl tells Alexandra he left his business to a trusted partner when he saw the news about Frank Shabata's trial in a newspaper. He rushed home to be with her. Alexandra tells Carl she needs him, and he is all she has in the world. Carl understands what happened between Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata more clearly than Alexandra does, and he explains to her how he felt the love and energy between them although it was too abstract to be something he could have warned Alexandra about. They talk about the land and their future together in which they will be married. Then Carl kisses Alexandra tenderly, and the pair goes into the house.

Analysis

Alexandra Bergson's feelings about what happened to Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata are complex. She is completely shattered to lose her favorite brother and one of her closest friends in one blow. However, she also doesn't blame Frank Shabata and even feels that since he is the kind of man he is, he "could not have acted otherwise." Even Ivar seems to think Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata will be in hell for what they've done. There is a curious lack of sympathy for the two young lovers, and no one realizes, nor could they have any way of knowing, that Marie and Emil fought hard to make the right choice and had not acted on their feelings before that night.

In her prison visit to Frank Shabata, Alexandra Bergson continues to sort through a mess of feelings and confusion. Frank's behavior seems completely changed. He is broken by prison although he still swings between sorrow and guilt and blaming Marie Shabata for what happened. Alexandra's reasons for blaming Marie become clear here. She wonders if there is "something wrong in being warm-hearted and impulsive like that" but then goes on to blame the destruction of two lives on Marie: "But there was Emil, in the Norwegian graveyard at home, and here was Frank Shabata." There is an acute sense of injustice built on the reader's side, as the reader knows exactly what was going on between Marie and Emil even while Alexandra doesn't.

Carl Linstrum's return helps bring Alexandra some perspective. He understands the nuances of the situation better than she seems to. When Alexandra asks why it had to be Emil that Marie chose, Carl replies, "Because he was the best there was, I suppose. They were both the best you had here." Carl understands that there is something inevitable about what happened and that neither Emil or Marie are really at fault. He sees how they tried to prevent what happened, which was why Emil was going away.

In the end, Carl and Alexandra discuss their relationship with the land and what will happen to it in the future. Alexandra meditates on their own impermanence and how they "come and go, but the land is always here." She understands that human ownership of nature is a fleeting thing. Carl is moved by Alexandra's wisdom and connection with the land. The pair is finally able to lean on each other and take away the edge of each other's loneliness.

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