College Writing I
6 October 2014
The Epic That is O Pioneers!
O Pioneers! opens on a stormy winter day, in the town of Hanover, Nebraska, between 1883 and 1890. The speaker introduces four significant characters: the adolescent Emil Bergson; his determined older sister, Alexandra; her melancholy companion Carl Linstrum; and a stunning Bohemian child, Marie Shabata. The novel depicts the existences of Old World settlers trying to create a life on the Nebraskan frontier. Cather referred to the novel as a “two-part pastoral,” and included of two of her former short stories, “Alexandra” and “The White Mulberry Tree.” Even though it was her second tale, she considered O Pioneers! her first actual novel. It is still regarded as one of her best works, and marked her appearance as a significant American novelist. In the critical essay by David Stouck perfectly reflects on O Pioneers! in the light of its epic concept and in vision of the author's inspirational roots in the Midwest.
Stouck writes that, “the focus in epic rests on the figure of the strong man or woman who defends the people and their values against forces which threaten chaos” (Stouck 366). In O Pioneers! that larger than life character is embodied in the figure of Alexandra Bergeson. Her character and her position are defined early in the novel when her ill father turns over the accountability of the farm and the family to his daughter rather than to his maturing sons. She is presented to the reader in the first chapter as a “tall strong girl” who “walked rapidly and resolutely, as if she knew what she was going to do next.” Ultimately Alexandra develops into the most prosperous landowner in the divide and as a result, the leader of the Swedish pioneer community. She is the epic heroine mainly because she provides the ideal example of self-sacrifice. She offers up part of her childhood and many possibilities for happiness because she has a foresight of the future that involves hard work and persistent commitment. Furthermore, Alexandra's dream consists of promises and imaginings for others rather than those for herself. She expresses to Oscar that she wants him and Lou not to have to work so much and for Emil to attend college. Alexandra Bergson is a model of emotional strength, courage, and resolve. She perfectly personifies the strong figure in the epic. She is an archetype of the robust American pioneer and an epitome of the uncultivated American West.
“Epic focuses on the struggle of a people against a hostile force” (Stouck 368). In this particular tale, the antagonistic force is the land. Alexandra Bergson's association with the land exemplifies this ostentatious battle between human agency and the superior forces that influence characters. Alexandra exudes her will upon the land even as it structures and shapes her. But her connection with the land goes into more depth than meager power or guidance. She is, to some degree, an incarnation of the land. Simultaneously, she appears intriguingly vacant of human emotion and disposition. The main idea of O Pioneers! is man's affiliation to the land, specifically, a land that is merciless. A few of the characters, for example, Lou and Oscar Bergson and their father get themselves into an antagonistic relationship with the land. They do not love the land; they simply possess it. Everything about farming develops into a critical challenge against nature. They might die young or ultimately have to give up farming due to the struggle becoming so arduous. Instead, the characters that discover to love nature and coexist in peace with the land are those who become successful in the story. Alexandra understands that she needs to let the land make her wealthy by not rebelling against it. The pinnacle of her story as a farmer happens the moment she recognizes that she belongs to the land and not vice versa.
David Stouck also writes about how “as an epic heroine, Alexandra’s...
Cited: Cather, Willa. O Pioneers! Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1913. Print.
Stouck, David. Will Cather and the Epic. N.d.
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