O Pioneers!


Willa Cather

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O Pioneers!: Part 4, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

At Church on Saturday, the activity is split between mourning for Amédée and preparing for a confirmation service for a class of one hundred boys and girls. The next morning, Emil rides with forty French boys to meet the bishop’s carriage. As they pass the graveyard, they pass the man who is digging Amédée’s grave, and the boys look from the grave to the Church with one accord.
The Church’s division between celebrating the confirmation service and mourning Amédée’s death reflects the way that life and nature move on even when someone passes away. New boys come of age even as Amédée passes away. Emil and the French boys also possess solidarity in their mourning, which recalls Carl’s comment that one’s death is mourned in the prairie, but individual deaths go unnoticed in the city.
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Emil waits outside as the church is filling for Mass, and he sees that Frank Shabata has come alone, without Marie. Emil turns and enters the church, sitting in Amédée’s empty pew. During Mass, Emil tortures himself with questions about Marie, wondering at her absence. As he listens to the music in the church, however, Emil comes to feel that good can triumph over evil and that good is possible to men. He is able to regard Frank with a degree of calmness after this revelation.
Affected by Amédée’s death, Emil feels moved by the church music. He suddenly is able to see possibility in life, and his ability to view Frank with calmness suggests that his jealousy has eased.
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After Mass, Frank and Emil are both invited to dine in town. Emil stays until three o’clock, then slips out on his mare. He is affected by his friend’s death, though he feels no horror as he rides past Amédée’s grave—that, too, seems beautiful to him. He realizes that he is riding to say goodbye to Marie, without bitterness. It seems to him that his horse is flying, and when he arrives at the Shabatas’, his mare is in a lather. The house is empty, but Emil only wants to be reminded of Marie, so he heads to the white mulberry tree in the orchard. When he reaches the tree, he finds Marie napping on her side, and Emil throws his arms around her. Marie awakes and tells Emil that she has been dreaming of this.
When Emil slips out to see Marie, he has no intention of acting on his love—he sees the world as beautiful, suddenly (which, perhaps not coincidentally is the way Marie usually sees it) and simply wants to say goodbye. However, when he finds her under the mulberry tree, they both have let down their guard and give into temptation. They allow their love to come out into the open.
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