O Pioneers!

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White Mulberry Tree Symbol Analysis

White Mulberry Tree Symbol Icon
The white mulberry tree is a species nonnative to Nebraska, just like the homesteaders who arrive from foreign countries. It is known for being a short-lived species, reflecting the brevity of Emil and Marie’s relationship. Its coloring reflects the innocence of the young love that blooms beneath its branches, and the blood that eventually stains the fruit represents the destructive passion that brings their lives to an end. The mulberry tree also alludes to Ovid’s tragic tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, another young couple that meets a violent end beneath a white mulberry’s branches.

White Mulberry Tree Quotes in O Pioneers!

The O Pioneers! quotes below all refer to the symbol of White Mulberry Tree. 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 8 Quotes

“The Bohemians, you know, were tree worshipers before the missionaries came. Father says the people in the mountains still do queer things, sometimes,--they believe that trees bring good or bad luck.”

Related Characters: Marie Shabata (speaker)
Related Symbols: Land, White Mulberry Tree
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

It is a sunny day; Frank has gone to the saloon, and Marie has ventured into the orchard to pick cherries. There she encounters Emil, who she promises not to disturb her; however, she then proceeds to talk to him about the natural landscape and pagan spirituality. She has asked Emil about the religion of Swedes before Christianity. He isn't sure about it, and in this passage Marie explains that the Bohemians were "tree worshippers" before the arrival of Christian missionaries. Although Marie frames the Bohemian's pagan practices as "queer," it is obvious that she is fascinated by this way of life, and indeed, the pagan worship of nature coheres with the magical significance of the natural world within the novel. 

Like the "people in the mountains," the characters in the novel––particularly Alexandra––come to think of the land as having a will of its own. To some extent, the experience of migrating to the New World has prompted a temporal return back to a pre-Christian way of life. Marie's description of the Bohemians also brings to mind Native Americans, whose absence haunts the novel. Like Bohemian paganism, Native American religious practices bestow significance on trees and the natural world. Although they have been murdered and driven from the land the pioneers now occupy, their presence lingers through passages like this. 


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White Mulberry Tree Symbol Timeline in O Pioneers!

The timeline below shows where the symbol White Mulberry Tree appears in O Pioneers!. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 6
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
When Emil reaches Marie, she is sitting beneath the white mulberry tree with the cherries beside her. She tells Emil about the Bohemian belief that certain trees... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 6
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
...is empty, but Emil only wants to be reminded of Marie, so he heads to the white mulberry tree in the orchard. When he reaches the tree, he finds Marie napping on her side,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 8
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
In the orchard, the white mulberries are covered with a dark stain. Emil had been shot in the heart and died... (full context)