A week after Signa’s wedding, Emil is packing his books, getting ready to leave for law school at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Alexandra sits sewing by the table. Emil feels that there is something final about his departure this time around, and after a while, he takes a break from packing his books and lies down. He studies Alexandra in the lamplight, recalling that Marie had called her handsome. He studies the portrait of their father on the wall and feels that between the two of them, he resembles their father more.
Emil attempts to observe his sister as someone other than the practical, strong guardian she has always been for him. He sees her as Marie sees her, and he tries to compare her to their father, who he barely knew. He recognizes more of his own features in his father. That may be a sign of his own self-absorption, or it might signify the fact that Alexandra is more attuned to the land then either Emil or her father was. Their father was an educated man who came to the uncomfortable prairie to work. Only Alexandra felt connected to this land, and in her success she allowed for Emil to then escape that connection, making him more like his father than Alexandra is. In some ways, a familial cycle has been completed.
Emil asks Alexandra about the old walnut desk that once belonged to their father, starting up a conversation about John Bergson. Emil doesn’t remember very much about his father from before he was sick, and Alexandra tells Emil that their father was a very quiet, intelligent man, not at all small-minded like Lou and Oscar. She recalls that their father belonged to a choir in Stockholm, and she used to be very proud of him. Emil thoughtfully replies that their father had a hard fight in the New World, and Alexandra agrees—but adds that he had hope and believed in the land. Emil responds that he must have believed in Alexandra too, and the two of them sit in a contented silence.
Emil’s reflection also makes him realize the extent of the sacrifice his father made in bringing the family to the New World. He realizes that his father had a hard fight and left a much different life in Stockholm in order to cultivate the land in Nebraska. The land ultimately overpowered John Bergson, but he left it to his daughter to tame. Emil’s realization of all that his father and sister have done for him adds an extra layer of understanding between him and his sister.
Eventually, Emil speaks up again, saying that Lou and Oscar might have been happier if they’d been poor. Alexandra smiles at this and says that that might very well be true—but she is glad they’re prosperous for their children’s sakes. She’s very fond of Milly. Emil worries that the small-mindedness only gets worse as time goes on, however, and Alexandra reprimands him for thinking so darkly of his people.
Although Alexandra isn’t fond of what Lou and Oscar have become—and she recognizes, as Emil does, that it may be in part due to their wealth—she still would rather they be prosperous so that future generations can benefit. This is just an extension of her belief that one should sacrifice for the future.
Alexandra has no anxiety about how Emil will turn out—she believes in him as she believes in the land. She feels that he is no longer as restless as he was before he went to Mexico and that he will soon be settled in life. Emil suddenly brings up the duck that he and Alexandra once saw in the river. Alexandra says that she often thinks of the wild duck too, and Emil comments that it’s funny what one remembers and what one forgets. He says goodnight to Alexandra, telling her she’s done well by the family.
Alexandra trusts her gut feelings when it comes to the land, and she trusts her gut when it comes to Emil. She believes that he has finally settled down and is finding his place in the world. Emil’s mention of the duck that he and Alexandra saw in the river signifies that he may finally be ready to leave his own wild creature—Marie—alone to preen beautifully in the water. He’s ready to resign himself to reality.