What are the two major themes in O Pioneers! by Willa Cather?  

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O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather, presents two powerful themes: the strength and everlasting nature of the land and the ugly, destructive nature of jealousy. As immigrant Swedish farmers in Nebraska, the Bergsons have the task of taking raw land and turning it into productive farmland. Without the stamp of human work on it, its bleakness is overwhelming. “Of all landscapes about a new country, the absence of human landmarks is one of the most depressing and disheartening.” Human intervention is temporary, however. People who love the earth can come to appreciate its beauty and reap its rewards, but they cannot own it completely. “We come and we go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while.” Owning the land can bring great joy but will always be a fleeting privilege.

Jealousy is shown as a destructive force throughout the novel. Alexandra Bergson’s brothers, Lou and Oscar, are jealous of the opportunities given to their younger brother, Emil. They are also jealous of their sister’s business acumen and resent her ability to turn their land into a profitable enterprise, even as they reap its benefits. Their jealousy eventually leads to a permanent rift between them and their sister when they refuse to acknowledge her role in their success and want to deny her the right to marry her old friend Carl.

Jealousy also ends in tragedy for Alexandra’s younger brother Emil. Emil has loved Marie since they were children. Marie has married Frank, however, whose constant jealousy and anger have turned her away from him. When Marie and Emil finally find love together, Frank kills them both with his shotgun, destroying his own life in the process.

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ladyvols1 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In part 2 of O Pioneers we learn that Mrs. Lee won't use the new bathtub because she doesn't want to let go of her old ways.  The themes addressed in this refusal are of the individual against society.  Mrs. Lee is an individual who does not want to exchange her old ways for new ways. Mrs. Lee goes into the tub room and just splashes the water around, then goes to her room at bed time and bathes from a tub under her bed.  Mrs. Lee's actions also address the theme of the human life cycle.  Mrs. Lee is not moving ahead like the younger people in the novel.  This is very typical of elderly people.  They struggle with the new concepts and inventions of society

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