Like many other literary novels, Willa Cather uses numerous symbols in O Pioneers! to provide readers a deeper understanding of the characters and plot. Not only found in literature and other kinds of written works but also in the arts, symbols are concrete objects, people, or places used to represent abstract qualities, such as love and peace. Writers employ universal or well-known symbols so that its intended audience can understand though the meanings associated with symbols may change over time--what seems clear to people a century ago may appear baffling to modern day readers. Nonetheless, through the symbolic corn stocks, orchard tree, and the protagonist, Cather helps the readers gain an insight to the important themes and relationships among the major characters in her novel.
First of all, Alexandra Bergson, the protagonist of the story, clearly symbolizes individualism, the struggle against conformity, and the pioneer spirit that Cather wants to convey to her readers. Alexandra’s struggle to retain her individuality instead of succumbing to society’s pressure to conform can be seen through her willingness to introduce new crops and agricultural technology to her land. In an argument with her brothers, she says, “You all laughed at me when I said our land here was about ready for wheat, and I had to raise three big wheat crops before the neighbors quit putting all their land in corn” (127). Instead of following the crowd, Alexandra prefers to follow her own heart, even if it means living under the ridicules of others. This also clearly shows the pioneer spirit that Cather expresses through Alexandra. Unlike her brothers and the others who struggle to live as pioneers, she can feel “the future stirring” and the potential of her land, allowing her to successfully fulfill her own as well as her father’s dream (54).
Secondly, Cather symbolizes the destined-to-doom love between Marie Shabata and Emil Bergson through the corn stocks Emil thinks about...
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