Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of a Swedish immigrant homesteader on the Divide in Nebraska. A strong-willed woman of great courage and resourcefulness, she takes charge of the farm after her father’s death and, through good years or bad, uses the land wisely. When times are hard and neighbors become discouraged and move away, she scrimps and saves to add their acres to her own. She is the first on the Divide to try new agricultural methods, to plant alfalfa, to build a silo. She keeps Oscar and Lou, her younger brothers, from leaving the farm for easier work and softer living in town. At the end, she can look out over her cultivated fields and know that she has won prosperity for herself and her brothers. Yet her success as a farmer is bought at the price of her experience as a woman. Twice she sees Carl Linstrum, whom she loves, leave the Divide with no words of love spoken. She is more than forty when the death of Emil, her youngest brother, killed by a jealous husband, teaches her the need of love and the grace of compassion, and she and Carl are reunited. Alexandra Bergson is a character almost epic in stature, a fertility goddess of the plains subduing the wild and stubborn land and making it fruitful.
John Bergson, an immigrant farmer who dreams of re-gaining on his Nebraska homestead a family fortune lost in Sweden. He dies after eleven years of failure, his faith in the land...
(The entire section is 996 words.)
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In having Alexandra participate in the founding of a frontier community, that is, in a realm of experience central to America's identity and archetypally viewed as controlled by men, Cather is not simply substituting female for male but is actively intervening in the myth-making process. Instead of aiming to subdue the prairie, Alexandra tries to awaken it through love and empathy and to work in harmony with it, thereby departing from the familiar pattern of the "conquest" of the frontier. In contrast to the classic American hero in flight from society, she makes her main goal the establishment of a home and community and chooses to accept the responsibilities of overseeing the daily functioning of the settlement. Finally, although her imposing figure embodies the heroism of the pioneer leader who is purposeful, strong-willed, and dependable, she exhibits a maternal sympathy and continually adopts those around her, treating Emil as a son, her hired girls as daughters, and old Ivar as her special ward.
The other characters are mainly defined in relationship to Alexandra and to the land. Mrs. Bergson, a tireless worker who makes a garden in the wilderness and preserves her family's cultural heritage during their adjustment to their new country, performs on a small scale what her daughter will do on an epic one. Marie, the vibrant and impulsive young woman who evokes and returns Emil's passionate feelings of love, is more traditionally feminine than...
(The entire section is 445 words.)