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O Pioneers! | Study Guide

Willa Cather

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O Pioneers! | Quotes


She looked fixedly up the bleak street as if she were gathering her strength to face something.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

This passage describes Alexandra's strength of character. She is still a young woman, and her father is dying. She is preparing herself to face both her father's death and the task of keeping the farm going, which will fall to her when her father dies.


He was a little country boy, and this village was to him a ... perplexing place, where people wore fine clothes and had hard hearts.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

The narrator describes five-year-old Emil Bergson, who is a sensitive and shy country boy. This brief description is also revealing because, later, Emil will go to college and try to become a city boy himself; he has one foot in each world.


Ivar had lived for three years in the clay bank, without defiling the face of nature any more than the coyote that had lived there before him.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 3

This passage describes something about Ivar's character—he is a wild man who lives peacefully and purely in harmony with nature—that connects to the major ideas about the relationship between humans and nature in the novel. Unlike other humans, Ivar doesn't change his environment to suit himself but, instead, creates a home natural to his environment.


A pioneer should have imagination, should be able to enjoy the idea of things more than the things themselves.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 4

Alexandra has vision and imagination and is capable of living creatively. She is open to new ideas and trying new things, which makes her successful.


It's by understanding me ... that you've helped me. I expect that is the only way one person ever really can help another.

Alexandra Bergson, Part 1, Chapter 4

Carl Linstrum feels he's never really been able to do anything for Alexandra Bergson, but she tells him it's his friendship and love—things that are intangible—that help her the most. Their deep-rooted, slow-developing relationship carries the friendship and love theme in the novel.


The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 5

Although Alexandra Bergson is not emotional or sentimental, her first sight of the Nebraska plains inspires in her feelings of deep and enduring love. Because she loves the land, she will settle there, and history will begin.


Alexandra's house is the big out-of-doors, and ... it is in the soil that she expresses herself best.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 1

Alexandra is more connected with nature and with the land than she is with housekeeping. The structure of her house is something practical, but her heart is invested in her land.


You believe that everyone should worship God in the way revealed to him. But that is not the way of this country.

Ivar, Part 2, Chapter 2

Ivar speaks to Alexandra Bergson when he is worried about being locked up in an asylum. He is telling her that most people don't understand or like him because he is different. Alexandra appreciates his differences and his connection to nature and animals.


Freedom so often means that one isn't needed anywhere.

Carl Linstrum, Part 2, Chapter 4

Carl Linstrum has come from New York City to visit Alexandra Bergson in Nebraska. Alexandra insists he is lucky to be free, but Carl feels his freedom has come with a price. Both characters will ultimately realize that love and companionship between human beings is vital to having a good, meaningful life.


We pay a high rent, too, though we pay differently. We grow hard and heavy here.

Alexandra Bergson, Part 2, Chapter 4

Alexandra Bergson is speaking figuratively of the type of "rent" the settlers of the plains pay as opposed to the literal and expensive rent those living in the city pay. She means there is an emotional and intellectual price to pay for living in the countryside.


The property ... belongs to the men of the family, because they are held responsible, and because they do the work.

Oscar Bergson, Part 2, Chapter 10

Oscar Bergson and Lou Bergson show their true colors as they try to convince Alexandra Bergson that she doesn't have the right to do what she wants with her land because she is a woman. They claim to have done all the work over the years on the land, when in actuality Alexandra made the farm more prosperous after they had already divided the land.


The heart, when it is too much alive, aches for that brown earth, and ecstasy has no fear of death.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 6

Emil Bergson is in a heightened state of epiphany and awareness, going to see Marie Shabata. He has a revelation in the church that leaves him feeling charged, wild, and immortal.


When you get so near the dead, they seem more real than the living.

Alexandra Bergson, Part 5, Chapter 1

Alexandra Bergson is coming from sitting in the rain by Emil Bergson's grave. She is heartbroken and feels disconnected from living.


The people who love [the land] and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while.

Alexandra Bergson, Part 5, Chapter 3

Alexandra Bergson talks to Carl Linstrum about who will inherit her land when she dies, and they have a moment of taking in their own impermanence. She acknowledges that the human ownership of land is a temporary thing.


Remember what you once said about ... the old story writing itself over? Only it is we who write it, with the best we have.

Alexandra Bergson, Part 5, Chapter 3

Now older and wiser, Alexandra Bergson is speaking with Carl Linstrum and looking back on an old conversation they had when they were younger and had not yet learned as much about life.

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