O Pioneers!


Willa Cather

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O Pioneers!: Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

When Emil arrives home that evening, he calls for Alexandra, who has been crying in her room. The dusk, however, hides any hint of this. Emil is preoccupied as well, since he has decided to put off law school another year. He tells Alexandra that he plans to go to the Mexico City instead, and he suspects that Lou and Oscar will be sore about it.
Emil arrives home to announce his plans to Alexandra without paying any notice to her feelings. He often accuses her of being blind to other people’s emotions (not incorrectly; she’s attuned to the land, not to people), but it seems that he can act similarly, as caught up as he is in his own problems. His decision to leave for Mexico City is clearly influenced by Marie’s denial of feelings for him—but Alexandra is unable to sense this.
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Alexandra mentions that Lou and Oscar are very angry with her as well, and Emil absentmindedly asks what they’re angry about. When she mentions that they are afraid she might marry Carl Linstrum, Emil brushes off the news as if it were ridiculous, which hurts Alexandra’s feelings. She explains that she has led a very lonely life and that Carl is one of her only friends. Emil uncomfortably agrees that Alexandra should do whatever she wants to do in these matters and adds that Marie has said that it would serve everyone right if Alexandra were to run off with Carl. This seems to cheer Alexandra somewhat, and Emil heads upstairs when he hears Carl’s horse heading towards the house.
Emil only really pays attention to the conversation after Marie’s name is mentioned, showing a bit of self-absorption and blindness when it comes to his sister’s feelings. He seems unable to imagine his sister loving someone or wanting to get married. Alexandra explains her loneliness to Emil, but he seems to feel uncomfortable with this information, since she has never been the one to confide in him before.
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Emil escapes to his own room, feeling that his sister is, in fact, a little ridiculous to be contemplating marriage at her age. His thoughts quickly turn to Marie, however, and he agonizes over the fact that she is married and seems not to notice his affection for her. He begins to daydream that she does love him back. At his university, Emil often neglected to dance with the girls because he was daydreaming of Marie. For two years, already, this storm of feelings has been brewing.
Emil cannot empathize with his sister, in part because he is too embroiled in his own thoughts of Marie. Further, though, he seems like a somewhat typical spoiled child, who lacks a bit of respect for the person who sacrificed to provide for him in some sense because they sacrificed themselves. Emil has never had to sacrifice himself, because of Alexandra’s efforts. Emil escapes to Mexico City in order to flee the temptation of his feelings for Marie—which is evasion, not sacrifice.
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