O Pioneers!

O Pioneers! Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Bergson homestead overlooks Norway Creek, a shallow stream at the bottom of a winding ravine. The houses on the Divide are small and insignificant, and the human impact on the land seems inconsequential. In eleven years, John Bergson, Alexandra’s father, had only made a tiny impression on his land. He reflects on the things that have held him back over the years. One winter, his cattle died in a blizzard, and the next summer, one of his plow horses broke its leg. Another summer, his hogs died from cholera, and a rattlesnake killed a valuable stallion. He muses on the fact that he has finally managed to get out of debt, only to die himself at forty-six.
The land has been a constantly overpowering presence in John Bergson’s life since his move to the New World. Like Carl, he sees that human society has made little impact on the land, which refuses to be tamed. At the end of his life, when he can no longer be useful, John Bergson also begins to look into the past, instead of looking forward with the future-facing gaze of the pioneer. He feels that the land has overpowered him.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
John Bergson has the Old-World belief that land is inherently desirable, yet he doesn’t know how to manage this kind of land, which seems to him an enigma. Their neighbors know even less than him, since they come from different professions in their native countries: tailors, locksmiths, cigar-makers, etc. John Bergson has depended on Alexandra’s judgments ever since she was twelve—she has always been more resourceful than her brothers, Lou and Oscar.
John Bergson holds Old World beliefs that owning land is desirable, but tries to apply them to the New World without understanding how the worlds differ. The New World is much harsher and wilder, and John Bergson’s early death represents how easily the New World can crush the Old. He was not born to the land and does not know it—and it, eventually, killed him.
Themes
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
John Bergson compares Alexandra to her grandfather, a successful shipbuilder who lost his fortune eventually, after marrying a woman much younger than him. However, Alexandra is intelligent and strong-willed, just like her grandfather. John Bergson feels that he is ready to give up the farm and the land to Alexandra’s capable hands. He senses her youth and strength, but feels that he would not wish to be young again himself.
The story of Alexandra’s grandfather is a cautionary tale, reminding the listener that it is not wise to give in to temptation in general or reckless love in particular. However, John Bergson has experienced the other side of resisting temptation—self-sacrifice—and thus he doesn’t envy Alexandra her youth. He knows that she must sacrifice her youth to hard work, especially if she is to survive as a pioneer and must struggle with the harsh prairielands.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
John Bergson calls to Alexandra and tells her to bring her brothers, Lou and Oscar. He makes her promise that she will keep the land and take charge of the farm. He makes his wishes clear to her brothers, as well, also asking them to indulge their mother when she wants to plow her garden, as she has always missed the old country.
Even on his deathbed, John Bergson senses the power of the land and urges Alexandra to keep hold of it, to not sell it. His reminder that Mrs. Bergson has always missed the old country also underlines how difficult it is to adjust to a foreign land as an immigrant. Mrs. Bergson is constantly comparing the old to the new, and this prevents her from finding true happiness in the new country.
Themes
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
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The family sits down to a silent dinner, and the boys eat very little. Mrs. Bergson is described as a good housewife, with a penchant for preserving and pickling. She misses the old country’s fish diet, making Lou and Oscar go out to the river once a year to catch fish. She does her best to maintain household order, and her neighbors believe she is very proud.
Again, Mrs. Bergson does her best to maintain order that is reminiscent of the old country, and this gives her a certain degree of comfort, but it is implied that she will never adjust completely to her new landscape. Her penchant for pickling and preserving is metaphorical for the way she herself also won’t give up the past to live in the present, and how that sours her relationship with the present and the land.
Themes
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon