Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

O Pioneers! presents one woman’s experiences as she struggles to keep her family together in harsh conditions on the Nebraska prairie, called “the divide” in the book, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book is divided into five parts. Part 1, called “The Wild Land,” introduces the teenaged Alexandra Bergson, her young brother Emil, her friend Carl Linstrum (who is slightly younger than herself), and an already captivating girl, Marie Tovesky, who is visiting her uncle. Even in this first section, it is clear that Alexandra is in charge of her family’s farm now, since her father is bedridden. It is she whom he trusts with the care of the farm, especially since he knows that he will die soon. John Bergson recognizes in Alexandra strength of will and a direct way of thinking things out, but he would rather have seen these traits in one of his sons, believing that it is a man’s place to lead. John Bergson’s prejudice against his most able child because of her gender prepares readers for the other biases that Alexandra will encounter.

Part 2, “Neighboring Fields,” takes place sixteen years after John Bergson’s death. The prairie has given up its struggle against the farmers and now yields abundant crops. Amid all the abundance is Emil, scything the grass in the old Norwegian cemetery, and Marie, who has come to give him a ride home. This scene foreshadows many others to come. Two future events are of special importance. After the death of his best friend, Amedee, Emil decides that he cannot waste his life because death can come at any moment; at Amedee’s grave he decides that he will have Marie, his beloved, who is already married to Frank Shabata. The cemetery also foretells a scene that the reader is not shown but which must happen after Emil and Marie are found making love in the Shabata orchard.

The neighboring fields are Marie and Frank’s, but they are not the only neighbors with whom Alexandra must deal. Her own brothers, Lou and...

(The entire section is 823 words.)