O Pioneers!

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O Pioneers! Part 2, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
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 been to have a friend on the other side of the path again, and Carl responds that he hopes it hasn’t been quite the same. Alexandra, surprised, says that of course no one could take Carl’s place—but Marie is a wonderful companion. Carl asks whether Alexandra is at all disappointed in their reunion, and Alexandra responds that it’s better than she had imagined—she had worried that Carl would be more changed. Carl tells her that he finds it easy to speak to Alexandra about everything except herself—because he fears that he would startle her if he told her how much he admires her.
Carl continues to hint at his deep feelings and admiration for Alexandra, and she seems surprised but pleased. Her appreciation of Marie also highlights how lonely she’s been over the years—she’s grateful to have a companion.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Carl and Alexandra admire the orchard Carl used to water, and Alexandra calls Marie, who comes running. She invites her guests into the house, but Alexandra suggests that they sit in the orchard instead. They head to Marie’s spot under the white mulberry tree, and Marie insists that Alexandra take the seat on the wagon so that she won’t stain her dress. Carl admires the picture they make in the sunlight, as he remembers Marie Tovesky as a little girl. She has the same eyes, brown flecked with gold. Carl finds it a pity that she isn’t flashing these eyes for a sweetheart.
The white mulberry tree is where many of Marie’s important scenes with Emil take place. This is significant, as the tree is a potent symbol: a short-lived, non-native species (like the homesteaders themselves) with white leaves that suggest (at this time) the innocence of Emil and Marie’s attraction. At the same time, the tree connects their relationship to tragedy, as the doomed Greek lovers Pyramus and Thisbe also met under a mulberry tree. Marie greatly appreciates the outdoors, and Alexandra likens Marie herself to a wild creature—a brown rabbit. Carl feels that Marie’s energy and affection should be applied to loving a sweetheart, another testament to her warm nature.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
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 her and Carl when they were younger. A circus had come into town, and Lou and Oscar drove them in to see the parade, though they were too poor to enter the actual circus. They left, feeling dejected, but on the road home, they passed a man selling apricots, and Alexandra and Carl bought a few pecks, saving the seeds in order to plant them later. When Carl left the prairie, they still hadn’t borne any fruit at all.
The story of the apricot trees reminds the reader of how difficult life was for the book’s characters at the beginning of the novel. They were too poor even to indulge in a circus visit in town. However, the blooming of the apricot trees signifies both the Bergsons’ current state of prosperity and the eventual payoff of hard work, since Carl consistently watered the trees before he left, but they didn’t bear fruit until after he moved. Like other pioneers in the novel, his own delayed gratification benefits a future generation.
Themes
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
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 he drew a lot of little birds and flowers for her when her uncle left her at the store. Carl smiles and says that he remembers that time as well. Marie’s uncle had bought her a mechanical toy of a Turkish lady sitting on an ottoman and smoking a hookah. Marie laughs as she recalls the music box and how it made her aunt and uncle laugh as well.
Carl’s drawing of birds and flowers for Marie reflects her generous, free personality, which is itself an act of nature, drawing others to her warmth. She seems to have been loved by everyone she’s ever encountered: her aunt, uncle, uncle’s friends, Frank, Emil, etc.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
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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 up to him to introduce him to her guests, and Frank barely salutes them before angrily complaining about a neighbor’s hogs. Frank is still a handsome man, but he looks rash and violent. Marie tries to reassure him, and Alexandra suggests that Frank help the neighbor secure her fences in order to save himself some time. Frank stiffens at the suggestion of doing extra work for a neighbor, and Alexandra placidly goes on her way with Carl.
Alexandra’s suggestion that Frank mend his neighbor’s fence shows that she believes that sacrificing some of one’s own effort can save time—and also possibly build valuable relationships, which Frank obviously has trouble doing. Frank refuses to do extra work for a neighbor, however, even if it will ultimately benefit him. This might explain why he labors so hard, only to be disappointed by what he reaps. He does not trust in others, and therefore must “fight” to work the land on his own. And that losing battle only makes him more bitter.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Marie follows Frank into the house, doting on him and telling him that she will make him some coffee. She says that she’ll go over and talk to their neighbor—but she adds that the last time the neighbor’s hogs got out, the neighbor was so sorry, she almost cried. Frank angrily replies that Marie always takes the neighbors’ sides over his. Marie hurries away to make the coffee, and when she returns, Frank is already asleep. She feels sorry for Frank when he works himself into his rages, but she is also aware that her neighbors have a lot to deal with, and they put up with Frank for Marie’s sake.
Frank’s violent nature is in direct opposition to Marie’s warmth, and their marriage is a struggle to reconcile these two extremes. Her devotion to Frank is simultaneously a form of self-sacrifice and a punishment for giving into temptation and running away with Frank in the first place.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon