This is the story of struggling immigrants, pioneering the Nebraska frontier, whose lives changed when their land suffered a three-year drought. In the book, one of the main characters, Alexandra, takes over her dad’s farm, with her three brothers, and makes it successful after he fell ill and passed away. Then after the drought and times got desperate, including crop failures, her brothers want to sell the farm like so many other farmers and leave. However, Alexandra refuses because she loves the land so much. She ends of making the farm prosperous and even expands the business. She overcame many obstacles by keeping the faith and drive that was in her spirit.
The following questions pertain to O Pioneers! They further highlight significant events in the book for the purpose of understanding the main themes in the book.
- Compare the social and cultural life of the rural areas then and now. What are the differences and similarities?
The social and cultural ways of life in rural areas of today are influenced by the environment in rural areas. Rural areas are less crowded than urban areas and there are less buildings and less traffic as it is in the city. There is a lot of space in rural areas. This leaves room for farms, just like in the days written about in the book. Social life in rural areas now may be less hospitable as it was in the days like in O Pioneer. In the book, there was a lot of sharing and helping between the people. Also, there is strong emphasis on nature and farming, which attests to how the wide open spaces of rural areas are perfect for that. Back then, however, there were less neighbors. Rural areas of today are highly developed with buildings and residential communities.
- Consider the immigrant experience on the Great Plains. How did it compare with the depiction in the textbook and with your prior knowledge? And what evidence did you see of the influence of Europe, and European customs on second-generation immigrants like Alexandra.
The immigrant experience of the Great Plains compares to how the immigrant experience is depicted in the book in that the immigrants began their migration due to hard economic times and farm failures. In the book, many of the farmers sold their land to seek a more prosperous life elsewhere. Some of the immigrants stayed to continue farming, just like Alexandra who is a second-generation immigrant. Additionally, there was a strong European influence on the immigrants during the Great Plains movement. This is due to the more than two million Europeans settling in the Great Plains (Homestead Act).
- How did Alexandra manage to break gender stereotypes and gender conventions? And in what manner, if any, did she still remain in thrall to them? And who best represents the spirit of modern freedom—Alexandra or Marie?
Alexandra broke gender stereotypes by getting out there and doing the work of what was considered female tasks and male tasks. She tended the land, which she loved and she made the farm a success. She was successful because she learned a great deal about business and agriculture. She also uses new techniques and ended up expanding by acquiring land from other farmers. She also saw beauty in the soil of the land. This is how she remained in thrall to the gender conventions. Alexandra represents the spirit of modern freedom because she brought modernization concepts into her business and the way she took care of the land. She was way ahead of her time as far as running her farming businesses with good business sense and she did this by combining gender identities as it related to the tasks at hand. She had a pioneer spirit about her.
- What physical, economic and aesthetic influence did the land have on the settlers? And is the story one of Tragedy or Triumph, or combination thereof? And do you think that people of this time led richer, more authentic lives than they do in the present-day America? Discuss.
Alexandra felt very passionate about the land, in the book. She saw poetic beauty in the land and she desired to nurture the land. Her male family members did not share this same passion. They were ready to give up after the three years of prosperity, because of the three years of drought. This drought caused other farmers to sell their farms or lose them to foreclosure. This story is both triumphant and tragic. It is tragic because it is a sad case that people had to lose so much and be forced to leave their land. Also it is a tragedy to be forced to give up. This is a symbolic tragedy. There is also tragedy in so much loss of life, based on moral consequences.
The story is triumphant because the hope that was left that Alexandra held onto proved to be a good idea, and she became very successful. Personally, I think people lived richer and more authentic live then, because they lived off of their land. The land that they grew and the animals that they raised would give them a sense of accomplishment and pride. Nowadays, everything is so commercialized. People just go to the store and get what they want or they order it online.
- A poll of learned critics voted this novel one of the 50 most important English language novels of the 20th And a poll of readers produced the same results. Why is this novel considered so important? And what revelations does it offer about the “human condition?”
I believe this novel is so important because it depicts how people can be unselfish and willing to help one another. As stated, Alexandra had a pioneer spirit and she used that to help, not only herself, but others as well. The novel also shows a strong vision for the future in Alexandra. Additionally, there is a concept of hard work and moral values in the novel, which speak to the human condition. Dedication, love, friendship and passion are also traits depicted in the book that relate to the human condition.
O Pioneer! is a story about self-sacrifice, hard work, morals, friendship and stick-to-it-ness. Additionally, the story highlights Alexandra successfully saving the family by not allowing her brothers to take the easy way out. Her determination served as an example to keep fighting in the face of adversity.
Throughout the book Alexandra represents someone who is marred by difficult experiences and sufferings, but she is shown to have been changed by her experiences. This is particularly true about the experience of suffering through the death of her brother by the hand of Frank, the husband of the woman her brother was seeing, her friend Marie. Frank had killed Marie too. To come to terms with the tragedy, she visits her brother’s murderer in prison but she is still filled with anger and pain, though she forgives him. She is only comforted by the return of someone she loves, Carl. He had left her because his family had sold their farm back in the time of the crop failures. His return to Alexandra is how the story ends with the depiction of a strong human relationship.
Cather, W. O Pioneers! Wilder Publications, 2009. Print.
Homestead Act: Who Were the Settlers? n.d. Web. 2 February 2012.