Study Guide

O Pioneers!

by Willa Cather

O Pioneers! Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Hanover is a frontier town huddled on the windblown Nebraska prairie. One winter day, young Alexandra Bergson and her small brother Emil go into town from their new homestead. The Bergsons are Swedes. Their life in the new country is one of hardship because their father is sick and the children are too young to do all the work on their prairie acres. Alexandra goes to the village doctor’s office to get some medicine for her father. The doctor tells her there is no hope for their father’s recovery.

Emil, who had brought his kitten to town with him, is crying on the street because the cat had climbed to the top of the telegraph pole and would not come down. When Alexandra returns, she meets their neighbor, Carl Lindstrum, who rescues the cat. The three ride toward home together, and Carl talks of his drawing. When Alexandra and Emil arrive home, their supper is waiting, and their mother and father are anxious for their return. Shortly afterward, Bergson calls his family about him and tells them to listen to Alexandra, even though she is a girl, for she has proved her abilities to run the farm capably. Above all, they are to keep the land.

Alexandra is still a young girl when her father dies, but she immediately assumes the family’s domestic and financial troubles; she guides everything the family does, and through her resourcefulness, she gains security and even a measure of wealth for her brothers and herself. Emil, the youngest brother, remains the dreamer of the family, in his mooning over Marie Tovesky, whom he had first loved as a little child. Marie had married Frank Shabata. Frank was wildly possessive and mistrusted everyone who showed the slightest kindness to Marie. Alexandra is in love with Carl Lindstrum, whose father gave up his farm because the new, stubborn land seemed too hard to subdue. He returned to more settled country and took Carl with him to learn the engraver’s trade.

Alexandra depends upon Crazy Ivar for many things. He is a hermit, living in a hole dug into the side of a riverbed. The kinder Swedes claim he had been touched by God. Those who are unsympathetic are sure he is dangerous. Actually, he is a kindhearted mystic who loves animals and birds and who lets his beard grow according to the custom of ancient prophets. Through his lack of concern for worldly matters, he loses his claim,...

(The entire section is 961 words.)