O Pioneers!

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O Pioneers! Part 5, Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Three months after the violent deaths of Marie and Emil, Ivar is sitting in the shed at 5 o’clock in the evening, mending a harness. A storm has come in, bringing a cold wind and torrents of rain, and suddenly, Signa bursts into the shed. She and Nelse now live with Alexandra, who has refused personal care from anyone other than Signa. Signa does not know where Alexandra has gone, and she worries that her mistress will catch cold. Ivar agrees to go out and look for her.
The weather rages on in spite of the deaths of Marie and Emil. Seasons still change, and nature moves on without noticing human loss. Signa and Ivar prove themselves to be loyal companions to Alexandra, who accepts little help during her months of mourning. Signa and Nelse even move back to be near her.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Signa suspects that Alexandra is at the graveyard and worries about the way Alexandra is acting—she needs reminding about when to eat and when to go to bed. Ivar reassures Signa that Alexandra will eventually find peace. Until then, he and Signa will bear with her, as they are the ones she most trusts. Signa expresses how terrible the past three months have been, and how they have made everyone suffer.
Signa’s lament that everyone has had to suffer because of Emil and Marie’s deaths echoes Emil’s previous lament that other people had to pay for Marie’s impulsive marriage to Frank. Giving into temptation affects the entire community, not just the individuals directly involved.
Themes
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Signa suddenly asks Ivar why he goes barefoot. Ivar responds that it is to indulge his body and protect him from other temptations. When he feels low, he can indulge his feet in filth, and they are easy to make clean again. Signa ponders this thoughtfully, and then tells Ivar that he has been a good friend to their mistress. He responds in kind and then leads Emil’s mare into the storm.
Signa doesn’t laugh at Ivar’s explanation of avoiding temptation by allowing his feet to wallow in filth. She instead shows respect for the old man because he is a hard worker and has been loyal to Alexandra through the years.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Dignity of Work Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
When Ivar reaches the graveyard, the storm has died down, and he finds Alexandra by John Bergson’s grave. She apologizes for worrying everyone and says that she is glad to see him. She talks about how pleasant it is to feel the rain once one has become thoroughly cold, how it seems to bring back feelings of being a baby. She wonders aloud whether this is how the dead feel. Ivar reproaches her, saying that the dead are in Paradise, but then he hangs his head since he does not believe that Emil has reached Paradise.
Alexandra finds solace in nature, even in a storm. The cold comforts her. Emil and Signa clearly care for Alexandra, and she recognizes their concern—however, her attention is still with the deceased. Ivar, sadly, believes that Emil has not reached Paradise because he gave into bodily temptations.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
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When they arrive home, Signa and Ivar take care of Alexandra and put her to bed, where she has the illusion of being lifted and carried off again, as in her dream. She feels that she knows who the figure is now—“the mightiest of all lovers”—and she goes to sleep.
Alexandra has the recurring dream of being carried away by the godlike figure of the land, and she finally realizes that this figure may be “the mightiest of all lovers”—or death. She feels safe and at peace in his arms, ready to be carried away, since she has completed her earthly duties.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
When Alexandra awakens the next morning, she has a cold and stays in bed for the next few days, resolving to go to Lincoln to visit Frank Shabata, who has received a prison sentence of 10 years after confessing to the murders. Alexandra feels that Frank is the only one she can help now, and she blames him less than she blames others, including herself. She feels guilty for having thrown Emil and Marie together at every opportunity, and for not recognizing their feelings for each other. Alexandra recalls the morning she found the bodies in the orchard, and the awe she felt towards them. She felt then that they could not have helped loving each other.
When Alexandra recovers, she has a sense of renewed purpose. She has always had a purpose in her life, something to dedicate her work to: Emil. Now she looks for another purpose, and settles on Frank. She pities Frank, who she sees as a victim of circumstance. She’s unsure whether to blame Emil and Marie or whether their love was inevitable. By acknowledging the possibility that their love was inevitable, however, Alexandra demonstrates an understanding of the irrepressible forces in pioneer life.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Alexandra resolves to help Frank, who she feels she is able to understand 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 hard against him. She wonders whether it would not be better for her to finish her life alone.
Alexandra pities Frank because she feels that he is as alone as she is. She sees them both as victims of a senseless act. When she doesn’t hear from Carl, Alexandra begins to harden more—the same way she had to harden when circumstances on the farm were tough.
Themes
Love and Relationships Theme Icon