O Pioneers!

Land Symbol Icon
The land is of such significance in O Pioneers! that Cather even commented that the true heroine of the novel is the land itself. It is the land that undergoes the most dramatic transformation in the story, from wild terrain to fruitful pastures. In the very beginning of the book, the land symbolizes the harshness of the New World. It resists the efforts of the pioneers, who don’t understand how to work the foreign soil. The land comes to emphasize just how far these pioneers and immigrants have strayed from their homes. The land also symbolizes other essential aspects of pioneer life—like the delay of gratification and the hard work necessary to prosper. Even when the land is transformed in the latter half of the book, there are hints that all the human drama is secondary to the land itself, which represents a greater Nature that continues to move forward even in the wake of human destruction. Even after Emil and Marie die in the orchard, for example, the narrator reminds us that this is only part of the story. The other part of the story involves the butterflies fluttering above the alfalfa, and the wild roses dying in bloom—in other words, the world around the people, which continues on regardless of human tragedy.

Land Quotes in O Pioneers!

The O Pioneers! quotes below all refer to the symbol of Land. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Power of the Land Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of O Pioneers! published in 1994.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its somber wastes.

Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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…he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

Related Characters: John Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

She had never known before how much the country meant to her. The chirping of the insects down in the long grass had been like the sweetest music. She had felt as if her heart were hiding down there, somewhere, with the quail and the plover and all the little wild things that crooned or buzzed in the sun. Under the long shaggy ridges, she felt the future stirring.

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson
Related Symbols: Land, Ducks and Wild Birds
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“We hadn’t any of us much to do with it, Carl. The land did it. It had its little joke. It pretended to be poor because nobody knew how to work it right; and then, all at once, it worked itself…”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Carl Linstrum
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

“The Bohemians, you know, were tree worshipers before the missionaries came. Father says the people in the mountains still do queer things, sometimes,--they believe that trees bring good or bad luck.”

Related Characters: Marie Shabata (speaker)
Related Symbols: Land, White Mulberry Tree
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

He and Amédée had ridden and wrestled and larked together since they were lads of twelve…It seemed strange that now he should have to hide the thing that Amédée was so proud of, that the feeling which gave one of them such happiness should bring the other such despair. It was like that when Alexandra tested her seed-corn in the spring, he mused. From two ears that had grown side by side, the grains of one shot up joyfully into the light, projecting themselves into the future, and the grains from the other lay still in the earth and rotted, and nobody knew why.

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson, Emil Bergson, Amédée Chevalier
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

“Hard on you? I never meant to be hard. Conditions were hard. Maybe I would never have been very soft, anyhow; but I certainly didn’t choose to be the kind of girl I was. If you take even a vine and cut it back again and again, it grows hard, like a tree.”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Lou Bergson, Oscar Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

The hedgerows and trees are scarcely perceptible against the bare earth, whose slaty hue they have taken on. The ground is frozen so hard that it bruises the foot to walk in the roads or in the ploughed fields. It is like an iron country, and the spirit is oppressed by its rigor and melancholy. One could easily believe that in that dead landscape the germs of life and fruitfulness were extinct forever.

Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

If Alexandra had had much imagination she might have guessed what was going on in Marie’s mind, and she would have seen long before what was going on in Emil’s. But that, as Emil himself had more than once reflected, was Alexandra’s blind side, and her life had not been of the kind to sharpen her vision. Her training had all been toward the end of making her proficient in what she had undertaken to do. Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields.

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson, Emil Bergson, Marie Shabata
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

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There were certain days in her life, outwardly uneventful, which Alexandra remembered as peculiarly happy; days when she was close to the flat, fallow world about her, and felt, as it were, in her own body the joyous germination in the soil.

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

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Sometimes, as she lay thus luxuriously idle, her eyes closed, she used to have an illusion of being lifted up bodily and carried lightly by some one very strong. It was a man, certainly, who carried her, but he was like no man she knew; he was much larger and stronger and swifter, and he carried her as easily as if she were a sheaf of wheat. She never saw him, but, with eyes closed, she could feel that he was yellow like the sunlight, and there was the smell of ripe cornfields about him.

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

“You belong to the land, “ Carl murmured, “as you have always said. Now more than ever.”

Related Characters: Carl Linstrum (speaker), Alexandra Bergson
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

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“The land belongs to the future, Carl; that’s the way it seems to me. How many of the names on the county clerk’s plat will be there in fifty years? I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother’s children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it—for a little while.”

Related Characters: Alexandra Bergson (speaker), Carl Linstrum
Related Symbols: Land
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Land Symbol Timeline in O Pioneers!

The timeline below shows where the symbol Land appears in O Pioneers!. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...already looking into the past. As they ride, the town vanishes behind them, and the prairie lands swell before them, with homesteads few and far apart. The land seems to overwhelm... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Power of the Land Theme Icon
...The houses on the Divide are small and insignificant, and the human impact on the land seems inconsequential. In eleven years, John Bergson, Alexandra’s father, had only made a tiny impression... (full context)
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
John Bergson has the Old-World belief that land is inherently desirable, yet he doesn’t know how to manage this kind of land, which... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...grandfather. John Bergson feels that he is ready to give up the farm and the land to Alexandra’s capable hands. He senses her youth and strength, but feels that he would... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...bring her brothers, Lou and Oscar. He makes her promise that she will keep the land and take charge of the farm. He makes his wishes clear to her brothers, as... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
Power of the Land Theme Icon
...she had gone to dig sweet potatoes. When he finds her, however, she’s admiring the land before her, the warm sun and summer sky. Carl informs Alexandra that the Linstrums have... (full context)
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...should quit. They mention that many of their neighbors are leaving, trading or selling their land to a real estate man, Charley Fuller. Alexandra argues that Fuller has the right idea... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...river. All the best farms can’t be bought, and the other farms are located on land that’s rough and hilly. Even though the inhabitants of the river valley have a certain... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...her conclusion to her brothers. She encourages them to go down and see the river land for themselves. Alexandra says that the next thing to do is to mortgage the homestead... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...and Alexandra looks at the stars, reflecting on the great mechanics of nature. Beneath the land, she feels the future stirring. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...years after John Bergson’s death, his wife lies beside him under an unrecognizable country. The prairie is now rich with crops and inhabitants, with a rich soil that yields heavy harvests.... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
...the order characteristic of the rest of the farm. Alexandra expresses herself best in the soil, and her true home seems to be the great outdoors. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...men at the table, Nelse Jensen. Ivar also sits at the table. He lost his land a dozen years ago through mismanagement, and Alexandra took him in, allowing him to stay... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Dignity of Work Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
...Linstrums’ old farm. At the time of Carl’s visit, the Shabatas had lived on the land for five years already, and Frank did turn out to be a hard worker. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Dignity of Work Theme Icon
...family. They worry that Carl is a tramp who is coming to claim the family land and fortune by marrying into it. (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Dignity of Work Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
Lou and Oscar argue that the land rightly belongs to the men of the family, since they’re the ones who must do... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
It is winter in the prairie again, and the ground is frozen over. It seems possible that life and fruitfulness will... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
...living. Her personal life and happiest days are almost subconscious and tend to involve the land. She also has fond memories of her time with Emil, including one particular time when... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...of her father’s children, there is one of them—Emil—who has a personality distinct from the soil. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Self-sacrifice vs. Temptation Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 3
Power of the Land Theme Icon
Love and Relationships Theme Icon
Pioneering and Immigration Theme Icon
...to accompany him to Alaska in the spring, but she will always return to the land. Carl agrees that she belongs to the land, now more than ever. Alexandra agrees and... (full context)