Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 961
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, and Alexandra gives him shelter on her own farm, much to the dismay of her brothers and their wives. They demand that she send Crazy Ivar to an institution, but she refuses. She respects Crazy Ivar as she does few other people.
In the same way, Alexandra defends Carl Lindstrum. After an absence of sixteen years, he returns to their settlement. He had studied much, but in the eyes of the thrifty Swedes, his life was a failure because he had not married and had no property. He seems willing to marry Alexandra, who is now quite wealthy. Her brothers, Oscar and Lou, tell Alexandra that she must not marry Carl, and she orders them from her house. Carl, hearing of the disagreement, sets out for the West at once.
Alexandra applies herself to new problems. She pays passage for other Swedes to come to America; she experiments with new farming methods. She becomes friendlier with Marie Shabata, whose husband is growing more jealous. She sees to it that Emil receives an education, and she lets him go off to the university despite the criticism of the other brothers. By now Emil knows he loves Marie, and he goes away to study because he feels that if he stays in the community, something terrible will happen. Even attending the university does not help him. Other girls he meets seem less attractive. His secret thoughts are always about Marie.
Frank Shabata discharges hired hands because he suspects them. He follows Marie everywhere. Even at the Catholic church he is at her heels scowling at everyone to whom she talks. His jealousy is like a disease. At the same time, he treats her coldly and insults her publicly in front of their friends. She, on her part, is headstrong and defiant. At last, Emil returns from college. His friend, Amedee, becomes ill while working in his wheat fields and dies shortly afterward. Following the funeral, Emil resolves to see Marie, to say good-bye to her before leaving the neighborhood permanently. He finds her in her orchard under the mulberry tree. There for the first time, they become lovers.
Frank returns from town slightly drunk. Finding a Bergson horse in his stable, he takes a weapon and searches for Emil. When he sees the two he fires, killing both. Frank, mad with horror, starts to run away. Crazy Ivar discovers the dead bodies and runs with the news to Alexandra. For the next few months, Alexandra seems in a daze and spends much of her time in the cemetery. She is caught there during a terrible storm, and Crazy Ivar has to go after her. She regains her old self-possession during the storm. Frank, who was captured soon after the shooting, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. Alexandra determines to do what she can to secure his freedom. If she can no longer help her brother, she would help Frank.
While trying to help Frank, she hears that Carl has returned. He had never received her letter telling of the tragedy, but on his return from Alaska he read of the trial and hurried to Alexandra. His mine was a promising venture. The two decide that they can now marry and bring their long separation to an end.