On Sunday, Lou and Oscar go to Alexandra’s for dinner. Alexandra asked the Hanover furniture dealer to furnish her dining room for company so that it will look acceptably prosperous to visitors. Oscar’s face is still thick and dull, and Lou’s uneasiness has pushed him into politics, where he runs for county offices and neglects his farm work. Lou’s wife, Annie, is very conscious of her attire, continuously warning her children not to drop anything on her clothing during dinner.
Alexandra and her brothers have grown even further apart since they divided up the farm. Oscar still loves routine too much to be a true pioneer, and Lou has neglected his land in order to involve himself in politics, which demonstrates his ego and lack of commitment to work. His wife, Annie, is similarly shallow. She’s concerned with looking fashionable and eager to move to the city and leave the land.
The conversation at the table proceeds in English, as Oscar’s wife is ashamed of having married a foreigner, and none of their children understand Swedish. Lou says that he described Ivar’s symptoms to a doctor in Hanover while he was there, and the doctor believed Ivar to be dangerous. Alexandra and Signa laugh off the idea, and Lou says that it’s only a matter of time before one of the neighbors complains. Alexandra answers that she’ll have herself appointed Ivar’s guardian and take the case to court if any of their neighbors do try to have Ivar committed.
Oscar and Lou’s wives are both ashamed of having married immigrants—like their husbands, they care less about work ethic than they do about fitting in. Alexandra also chooses to defend Ivar over giving in to her brothers, further demonstrating the distance in their relationship and their different values.
Annie says that her daughter, Milly, is terrified of Ivar, but Milly, who is more at ease with Alexandra than with her mother, just grins, and Alexandra winks a reply. Alexandra says that she’ll keep Ivar at home so that Lou won’t have to trouble any more about him and changes the subject to Annie and Lou’s new bathtub.
Alexandra is fond of Milly, and it’s for her sake that Alexandra puts up with Lou and Annie.
Alexandra says that she might have to get a bathtub herself, but that first she wants to buy a piano for Milly. Oscar looks up and asks what Milly wants from a piano, causing Annie to become flustered. She worries that Oscar is apt to be jealous of what Alexandra does for Annie’s children, since Alexandra does not get along with Oscar’s wife at all. Alexandra defends Milly’s piano playing as well, saying that she deserves a piano.
Lou and Annie’s bathtub is also a symbol of the kind of extravagance that Alexandra would not be tempted to indulge in—on the other hand, she is willing to invest in a piano for Milly, in providing opportunities for the future generation. Oscar’s jealousy also demonstrates how the original Bergson family has splintered into their separate new families. Even Lou and Oscar are susceptible to competition with each other.
After dinner, Lou and Oscar go to the orchard to pick cherries, while Annie gossips with Alexandra’s kitchen girls, and Alexandra takes her three nieces into the flower garden. As they walk among the flowerbeds, a buggy drives up the hill and stops before the gate. A man approaches, asking whether Alexandra recognizes him. Alexandra takes a quick step forward once she recognizes Carl Linstrum and clasps his hands across the gate. She tells her nieces to go and fetch their fathers.
Alexandra’s decision to spend time with her nieces while the other adults go off on their own demonstrates her belief in investing in the future and, perhaps, her discomfort with the gossiping “polite society” of adults. She also meets Carl’s arrival with much excitement. Despite years away from one another, she has remembered her fondness for her old neighbor.
Carl tells Alexandra that he can only stay a few days before leaving for the coast, where he plans to learn about prospecting from a friend of his before they head to Alaska. Carl admires the farm, marveling at all Alexandra has done to the land. Lou and Oscar approach warily, but become more cordial once Carl tells them about his plans for Alaska. Annie emerges with her three daughters, greatly impressed by Carl’s urban appearance. She brags about Milly’s accomplishments, to the girl’s great discomfort. Carl reassuringly takes Milly’s hand and mentions that she resembles her grandmother, Mrs. Bergson.
Carl has been away long enough that he can fully admire the drastic change in the land. He is able to compare the land—currently in full flower—to the harsh, desolate prairie of his memory. Lou and Oscar react warily to Carl because they worry that Carl has come to try to marry Alexandra, which would affect Lou and Oscar’s inheritance of this now rich land. They do not value his friendship—or possible love for Alexandra—above their own prosperity
Carl asks whether Milly runs about over the country like Annie and Alexandra used to, and Annie protests that things have changed a great deal since then. She says that they plan to rent their place and move into town as soon as the girls are old enough to go out into company. Lou grins and sends Annie back to get ready for the drive back to their farmstead and begins to talk politics with Carl, expressing a deep resentment of Wall Street.
Annie’s embarrassment over how she and Alexandra acted as children and immigrants shows that she doesn’t fully appreciate the work and sacrifices of the previous generation. She doesn’t see the dignity in hard work. Additionally, Annie is tempted to move into town as soon as the girls are grown. Her lack of appreciation for the land is probably part of the reason she and Lou are not as prosperous as Alexandra, who treats the land with respect and love.
As Ivar drives the carriage up to the gate, Annie emerges from the house and Carl goes to help her down to the carriage. Lou lingers with Alexandra, asking her what she thinks Carl has come for. Alexandra replies that she’s been asking him to pay them a visit for years, and Lou and Oscar express their disapproval of Carl’s wandering ways. Annie calls back that Alexandra must bring Carl by sometime, as the rest of the family departs.
Lou and Oscar remain suspicious of Carl, questioning his motives for visiting. They treat him as a complete outsider, even though he used to be their closest neighbor. Ironically, the argument that they use against Carl is that he has squandered his time wandering instead of working—even though they themselves would have chosen to leave the land years ago if Alexandra had let them.