The relationships in the novel cover both romantic and familial love. Both types of love are complicated. While Alexandra has a chillier relationship with two of her brothers, Lou and Oscar—who resist both the land and Alexandra’s management because she is a woman—she genuinely cares for Emil, whom she dotes on from the beginning of the novel. Romantic love falls into two categories as well—there’s the reckless, passionate love between Emil and Marie, and the steadier, practical love of Carl and Alexandra. Marie and Emil’s violent end at the end of the book suggests that the life of a pioneer has no room for the selfishness and passion that accompany illicit love, however.
As immigrants and pioneers, the characters inhabit a world that is in no way designed for them, and they’re separated from their neighbors by vast expanses of land, language barriers, and harsh weather. As a result, loneliness permeates the book’s rural setting, and the characters struggle to maintain meaningful relationships with one another. Marie secretly pines for Emil, instead of her husband Frank, and when Frank discovers the two lovers, he fatally shoots them, simultaneously ending their relationship as well as his own free life. Alexandra must choose between her affection for Carl and her loyalty to her brothers, who are suspicious of an outsider marrying into the family. When Carl leaves to avoid trouble, he isolates both himself and Alexandra. The characters struggle through their platonic relationships as well; Alexandra, for example, has difficulty understanding her brother’s actions until Carl explains them to her. Her biggest flaw is a lack of empathy for other people; inversely, her biggest asset in the book is her relationship with the land, possibly suggesting that in order for pioneers to succeed, their relationship with the land must come first.
Love and Relationships ThemeTracker
Love and Relationships Quotes in O Pioneers!
John Bergson’s father had been a shipbuilder, a man of considerable force and of some fortune. Late in life he married a second time, a Stockholm woman of questionable character, much younger than he, who goaded him into every sort of extravagance. On the shipbuilder’s part, this marriage was an infatuation, the despairing folly of a powerful man who cannot bear to grow old. In a few years his unprincipled wife warped the probity of a lifetime.
“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.”
“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.”
“Maybe,” said Alexandra placidly; “but I’ve found that it sometimes pays to mend other people’s fences.”
He and Amédée had ridden and wrestled and larked together since they were lads of twelve…It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the thing that Amédée was so proud of, that the feeling which gave one of them such happiness should bring the other such despair. It was like that when Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring, he mused. From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into the future, and the grains from the other lay still in the earth and rotted, and nobody knew why.
“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.”
Alexandra had never heard Marie speak so frankly about her husband before, and she felt that it was wiser not to encourage her. No good, she reasoned, ever came from talking about such things…
If Alexandra had had much imagination she might have guessed what was going on in Marie’s mind, and she would have seen long before what was going on in Emil’s. But that, as Emil himself had more than once reflected, was Alexandra’s blind side, and her life had not been of the kind to sharpen her vision. Her training had all been toward the end of making her proficient in what she had undertaken to do. Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields.
Sometimes, as she lay thus luxuriously idle, her eyes closed, she used to have an illusion of being lifted up bodily and carried lightly by some one very strong. It was a man, certainly, who carried her, but he was like no man she knew; he was much larger and stronger and swifter, and he carried her as easily as if she were a sheaf of wheat. She never saw him, but, with eyes closed, she could feel that he was yellow like the sunlight, and there was the smell of ripe cornfields about him.
“You belong to the land, “ Carl murmured, “as you have always said. Now more than ever.”
“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.”