O Pioneers!

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Carl Linstrum Character Analysis

Carl is Alexandra’s childhood neighbor and best friend. He grows to become a brooding, sensitive man, who leaves the Divide for a career in engraving and then eventually leaves again to mine for gold in Alaska. He and Alexandra have a steadier kind of love between them, and they marry at the end of the book.

Carl Linstrum Quotes in O Pioneers!

The O Pioneers! quotes below are all either spoken by Carl Linstrum or refer to Carl Linstrum. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power of the Land Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of O Pioneers! published in 1994.
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“We hadn’t any of us much to do with it, Carl. The land did it. It had its little joke. It pretended to be poor because nobody knew how to work it right; and then, all at once, it worked itself…”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Carl Linstrum
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

After years of absence, Carl has arrived at Alexandra's house. Alexandra observes that he hasn't changed much in the years that have passed, and as they stroll together in the garden Carl asks how Alexandra managed to become so successful. Alexandra responds that "the land did it," once again anthropomorphizing (giving human qualities or identity to) the land by describing its formerly harsh, unyielding nature as a "little joke." This passage shows how intimately Alexandra feels connected to the land; her relationship with it is akin to a relationship with another person. Her words also confirm the idea that the land is hostile to people who do not treat it with the proper understanding and respect. Alexandra's respect for the land is shown by the fact that she credits the land itself for what others would see as her success. 

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“Isn’t it queer: there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years.”

Related Characters: Carl Linstrum (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ducks and Wild Birds
Page Number: 80-81
Explanation and Analysis:

Having arrived unexpectedly at Alexandra's house after many years away, Carl has asked after Emil, Oscar, and Lou. Alexandra has admitted that she rarely sees Oscar and Lou now that they have their own farms, and Carl confesses that he liked the brothers better in the old days, adding that he even nostalgically misses the old country. Alexandra agrees, and Carl observes that "there are only two or three human stories," comparing these stories to the cyclical repetition of the birds and the natural landscape. This passage highlights the similarity between Carl and Alexandra. Both work hard for the future, yet are inescapably bound to the past and to nature. 

This passage can also be interpreted as a self-conscious statement about the novel itself. Based on Carl's observation, O Pioneers! is less a story about a specific, unique set of characters, but rather a narrative shared by many people across different times and places. Indeed, this idea is reflected in the themes of the novel, which speak less to a particular historical reality than to the fundamental nature of the human condition. This emphasis on universalism arguably serves to highlight the similarities between immigrants to the U.S., who––despite coming from different cultural, religious, and class backgrounds––experience similar challenges in the New World. 

“Freedom so often means that one isn’t needed anywhere. Here you are an individual, you have a background of your own, you would be missed. But off there in the cities there are thousands of rolling stones like me. We are all alike; we have no ties, we know nobody, we own nothing. When one of us dies, they scarcely know where to bury him…We sit in restaurants and concert halls and look about at the hundreds of our own kind and shudder.”

Related Characters: Carl Linstrum (speaker), Alexandra Bergson
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:

As Alexandra and Carl continue to discuss what's happened in the years since they last saw one another, Alexandra asks why Carl is so "dissatisfied." Although alarmed at Alexandra's bluntness, Carl confesses that he does not enjoy his work, and in this passage explains that the allure of "freedom" and life in the city is merely an illusion. Carl's experience highlights the paradox of the pioneers' relationship to the New World and modernity. Alexandra and the other pioneers work the land in pursuit of freedom, prosperity, and the chance to participate in the consumer-based urban lifestyle that Carl references when he describes "restaurants and concert halls." Indeed, this lifestyle is the end goal of many of the pioneers' struggle. 

However, in this passage Carl suggests that the communal existence of pioneers is fundamentally preferable to the life of a "free," individual, urban worker. Although the mythology of the American dream usually constructs freedom and individuality as being intertwined, Carl contradicts this, arguing that total freedom makes a person anonymous and indistinguishable from the masses. Individuals, he claims, are produced by communities where there are people who care about a person and know that person's history. This paradox is central to debates over modernity that continue in the present day. 

Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

“I have a feeling that if you go away, you will not come back. Something will happen to one of us, or to both. People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find. What I have is yours, if you care enough about me to take it.”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Carl Linstrum
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

Having learned of Lou and Oscar's anger about his relationship with Alexandra, Carl resolves to leave Alexandra's farm. He has told Alexandra that he will try to find "something to offer" Alexandra––implying that he will strive to earn money. Hearing this, however, Alexandra protests that there is no point in offering people things they don't need, and in this passage she asks Carl not to leave. Alexandra's words reflect her solemn, serious view of life. Even as she suggests marrying Carl, she frames this in terms of the ultimate harshness of life, saying "it is always easier to lose than to find." Although this attitude may appear pessimistic, it allows Alexandra to pursue long-term, sustainable happiness, rather than acting according to her own whims or those of other people. 

Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

“You belong to the land, “ Carl murmured, “as you have always said. Now more than ever.”

Related Characters: Carl Linstrum (speaker), Alexandra Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Alexandra and Carl have been discussing what happened to Emil and Marie, and Carl has gently advised Alexandra not to be too harsh toward them, as the evidence suggests that they tried to resist their feelings. Alexandra has told Carl that she would like to come with him to Alaska, but that after she will return to the land; Carl agrees that Alexandra belongs to the land "now more than ever." This comment shows that Alexandra's bond to the land is strengthened by the drama and tragedy of life, rather than being weakened by it. Unlike human affairs, the land is constant; its purpose and value is unchanging and eternal. Alexandra's closeness to the land thus allows her to endure the unpredictable, difficult, and often tragic course of life.  

“The land belongs to the future, Carl; that’s the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk’s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother’s children. We come and 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.”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Carl Linstrum
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

Alexandra has told Carl that she will come with him to Alaska, but that afterward she will return to her farm, where they both agree she belongs. Alexandra suddenly expresses concern about leaving the land to Oscar and Lou's children. In this passage, she explains that "the people who love and understand [the land] are the people who own it," a fact that means Oscar and Lou and their descendants could never truly own the land. Alexandra's words emphasize the transient, fragile nature of human existence in comparison to the enduring power of the natural world. For this reason, the idea of people owning the land is somewhat absurd, especially if those people do not have the proper respect and understanding for the land.

On the other hand, Alexandra herself must accept that the future of the land and its owners is ultimately beyond her control. Note that her thoughts represent a perversion of the usual narrative around pioneering and immigration. Although Alexandra states that "the land belongs to the future," she does not mean that it will be used in a way to make future generations more prosperous––rather, the land will exist even when human individuals do not.  

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Carl Linstrum Character Timeline in O Pioneers!

The timeline below shows where the character Carl Linstrum appears in O Pioneers!. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...she refuses to come down. Alexandra resolves to go and see if she can find Carl Linstrum to help. (full context)
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...and heads off to the saloon. Meanwhile, Alexandra hurries to the drug store to find Carl, and he returns with her to the pole where Emil’s kitten is. (full context)
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Carl says he’ll have to go up after the kitten and heads into the depot to... (full context)
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...his face in his sister’s skirts, and Alexandra scolds him for being such a baby. Carl enters the store to let Alexandra know that the wagon is ready, and he carries... (full context)
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As Carl and Alexandra ride into the cold dusk, the remaining light falls upon their faces, revealing... (full context)
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Carl asks Alexandra about her family, and she expresses uncertainty over what will happen after her... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
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On a Sunday afternoon in July, six months after John Bergson’s death, Carl hears the Bergsons’ wagon passing by. He runs out to greet them, and they invite... (full context)
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Carl teases Emil, asking him if he isn’t scared to go to Ivar’s. Emil admits that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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During the second summer of drought, Carl finds Alexandra in her garden, where she had gone to dig sweet potatoes. When he... (full context)
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Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Alexandra accepts the news sadly, and Carl expresses his distress at running off and leaving Alexandra to face the worst of the... (full context)
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...that Lou and Oscar will become even more discouraged when they hear the news, and Carl offers not to mention the Linstrums’ departure to them. Alexandra responds that she will tell... (full context)
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Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
Alexandra opens the discussion by mentioning Carl’s news, and Lou and Oscar jump in to argue that they too should quit. They... (full context)
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The next day, Lou and Oscar sulk in the morning, and Alexandra encourages Carl to play cards with them in order to relieve their feelings. When evening comes, Alexandra... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
...approaches, asking whether Alexandra recognizes him. Alexandra takes a quick step forward once she recognizes Carl Linstrum and clasps his hands across the gate. She tells her nieces to go and... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Carl tells Alexandra that he can only stay a few days before leaving for the coast,... (full context)
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Carl asks whether Milly runs about over the country like Annie and Alexandra used to, and... (full context)
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As Ivar drives the carriage up to the gate, Annie emerges from the house and Carl goes to help her down to the carriage. Lou lingers with Alexandra, asking her what... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
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Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Alexandra feels that Carl has changed less than she expected. He still seems somewhat unconventional and uncomfortable. He looks... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Carl asks whether Emil will farm with Alexandra, and Alexandra declares that Emil will do whatever... (full context)
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Alexandra tells Carl about Marie Tovesky, who has bought the Linstrums’ old place. Marie ran away from convent... (full context)
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Alexandra asks Carl why is so dissatisfied with himself, and Carl explains that he has nothing to look... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
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Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...of days. She spends the days working on the farms and her evenings talking with Carl. On Wednesday morning, Carl rises early to walk to the crest of the hill where... (full context)
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Carl crosses over the fence and into the Shabatas’ pasture, toward the pond. He discovers, however,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
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After dinner that day, Alexandra puts on her white dress and sunhat, and she and Carl walk towards his former home on the old path. She tells him how nice it’s... (full context)
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Carl and Alexandra admire the orchard Carl used to water, and Alexandra calls Marie, who comes... (full context)
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Soon, Marie springs up and goes to fetch something to show Carl. She returns with a branch laden with apricots, which launches Alexandra into an anecdote about... (full context)
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Marie exclaims that that is a good story, and goes on to describe Carl as she remembers him from when she was a child. She recalls a time when... (full context)
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Half an hour later, as Carl and Alexandra are leaving Marie, they meet Frank Shabata coming up the path. Marie runs... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
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...else he could do, and bought her the Linstrums’ old farm. At the time of Carl’s visit, the Shabatas had lived on the land for five years already, and Frank did... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
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The evening after Carl and Alexandra’s visit, Frank reads about their neighbors’ divorce, growing angry at the details about... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...the fruit to drop into Marie’s lap. Marie then asks Emil what he thinks about Carl Linstrum, adding that she thinks Alexandra may be in love with him—an idea that makes... (full context)
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Dignity of Work Theme Icon
Emil says that he likes to talk to Carl about New York, and Marie seems alarmed that he might go off there. Emil defiantly... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 9
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On a Sunday afternoon, a month after Carl’s arrival, he accompanies Emil to the French country to attend a Catholic fair. Some of... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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While Emil and Carl are away, Lou and Oscar pay Alexandra a visit. They approach very seriously, telling her... (full context)
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Lou and Oscar say that Alexandra shouldn’t marry Carl, since she is only making a fool of herself at her age—forty years old. Alexandra... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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...asks what they’re angry about. When she mentions that they are afraid she might marry Carl Linstrum, Emil brushes off the news as if it were ridiculous, which hurts Alexandra’s feelings.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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Carl enters the sitting room, looking tired and worn from his anger. He says that he... (full context)
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Alexandra says that she has the feeling that if Carl goes away again, he will not come back. She believes that something will happen to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
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...receiving letters from Emil once a week. She has not seen her other brothers since Carl left and has started attending a different church in order to avoid them. (full context)
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...Mrs. Lee’s apron is beautiful, flattering her. She asks Alexandra whether she has heard from Carl, and Alexandra replies that he got to Dawson before the river froze, but she’ll likely... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 1
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...more than she could understand Marie. The day after Emil’s funeral, Alexandra had written to Carl, but she heard nothing in the following weeks as a response, and her heart grew... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 2
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...life weighing on her. When she arrives at the hotel, there is a telegram from Carl waiting for her. He is in Hanover, and Alexandra bursts into tears upon receiving the... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 3
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The next afternoon, Carl and Alexandra are both in Hanover. They leave Mrs. Hiller’s after delivering a little present... (full context)
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Alexandra asks Carl whether he understands what happened between Emil and Marie. Carl explains that they probably tried... (full context)
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Carl describes the day he saw Emil and Marie hunting ducks by the pond, and how... (full context)
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Alexandra tells Carl that she would like to accompany him to Alaska in the spring, but she will... (full context)