Alexandra feels that Carl has changed less than she expected. He still seems somewhat unconventional and uncomfortable. He looks older than his thirty-five years, and his face is intelligent and unhappy. After supper, Carl and Alexandra talk in the flower garden, and Carl asks Alexandra about the land’s transformation. Alexandra replies that the land transformed itself—it woke up one day and the Bergsons suddenly found that they were rich. Alexandra then went ahead and built the house for Emil. She proudly tells Carl that Emil is different from the rest of the prairie’s inhabitants.
Alexandra’s explanation of the land’s transformation gives all the credit to the land itself—as always, she believes fully in the land. Her mention of Emil shows that she still dotes on her youngest brother the most. It is for him that she has worked as hard as she has. Her pride in Emil’s difference is a pride in a young man who has options—who has been to college and can make his way in the world on his own. While she loves the land and doesn’t mind hard work, she wants something different for Emil. She doesn’t recognize that removing Emil from a connection to the land will also have costs for him.
Carl asks whether Emil will farm with Alexandra, and Alexandra declares that Emil will do whatever he wants. That’s the reason she worked so hard on the farm. Carl asks about Lou and Oscar, and Alexandra replies that she doesn’t see much of them now that they have farms of their own. Carl says that he liked the old Lou and Oscar better and that he suspects they feel the same about him. Carl confesses that part of him even likes the old country better, when it was a wild old beast. He theorizes that there are only two or three human stories that go on repeating themselves like the same five notes of a lark, over thousands of years.
Alexandra sacrifices her youth so that her brother, Emil, can have a chance to do whatever he wants in life. Carl’s statement that there are only two or three human stories that go on repeating themselves warns Alexandra—and the reader—that it may be harder than Alexandra believes to create a new narrative or story for her beloved younger brother. Although Alexandra has sacrificed her own youth to give Emil a chance, there is no guarantee that he will make something of it. Carl’s statement is also a reminder that nature’s cycles—of the seasons, of life and death—continue even in the face of human drama or misfortune.
Alexandra tells Carl about Marie Tovesky, who has bought the Linstrums’ old place. Marie ran away from convent school when she was eighteen in order to get married to Frank Shabata. Alexandra is fond of Marie and tries to get along with Frank on her account. Alexandra admires Marie’s energy and spirit. Carl confesses that he dreads seeing his old place and that he wouldn’t have visited at all if it weren’t for Alexandra.
Marie’s energy draws others to her. Her nature is generally warm and affectionate, but Alexandra’s reservations about Frank hint that he’s quite the opposite of Marie. Meanwhile, Carl’s statement that he would not have visited if it weren’t for Alexandra reveals how fond he truly is of her, or perhaps how much he loves her. On the one hand, this justifies some of Lou and Oscar’s worries that Carl will marry into the family land. On the other hand, who are they to deny Alexandra and Carl possible love or happiness over an inheritance for which they barely worked?
Alexandra asks Carl why is so dissatisfied with himself, and Carl explains that he has nothing to look forward to in his profession. He says that there are so many others like him that they cannot be individuals like the inhabitants of the prairie. They pay a high rent for a few hundred square feet in order to be close to the heart of things. Alexandra thoughtfully replies that she would still rather Emil turn out to be like Carl than to be like the rest of the people on the prairie, since they pay a different kind of rent there—they grow hard and heavy in the cornfields.
Alexandra is fully conscious of the sacrifices that prairie life requires of its inhabitants, how it wears them down—and it’s these sacrifices that she wants to protect Emil from. Yet Carl describes the costs of removing oneself from the land, of becoming one of an anonymous multitude in the city. Both Carl and Alexandra seem lonely, however, even though they’ve inhabited drastically different lives. They have had difficulty forming meaningful relationships.
Alexandra recalls Carrie Jensen, the sister of one of her hired men, who was so despondent she attempted to kill herself once or twice, before her family sent her to Iowa to visit her relatives. Ever since Carrie’s return from Iowa, however, she’s been cheerful, saying that she’s happy to live and work in a world that’s so big and interesting. Alexandra concludes that she’s similarly motivated by what goes on in the rest of the world.
Carrie’s story seems to indicate that the isolation of the prairie made her depressed and suicidal, but the realization of a larger world sustained her even as she returned to the prairie. Alexandra is similarly inspired—she, like Carrie, senses the privilege of being a part of such a big world, even if their work only occupies a tiny fragment of the world.