O Pioneers!, Willa Cather's first great novel, is the classic American story of pioneer life as embodied by one remarkable woman and her singular devotion to the land. Alexandra Bergson arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Nebraska as a young girl and grows up to turn it into a prosperous farm. In this unforgettable story,Cather conveys both the physical realities of the landscape, as well as the mythic sweep of the transformation of the frontier, more faithfully and perhaps more fully than any other work of fiction.
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In this opening paragraph, author Willa Cather establishes the setting of this novel, while also introducing the land as if it were a character in the novel. The book was originally published in 1913 and is a classic American novel. O Pioneers! has inspired several pieces of music, and served as the basis for a film which debuted in 1992.
What do we learn about Alexandra in the initial pages?
Kate Greenaway was a reknowned children's book illustrator who developed her own style in the second half of the nineteenth century. Below is a reproduction of a Christmas card designed by her. (This annotation contains an image)
We can infer from the highlighted text that
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Use the dictionary feature to look up any words you do not know in the highlighted sentence, and then choose which sentence best paraphrases it.
While John Bergson dies early on in this novel, his wishes are pervasive throughout the book. As you read, you will be asked to periodically evaluate the family's ability to respect those wishes.
Can you imagine why people are afraid of Ivar? List what you know about him so far.
As you get to know the different characters, think about what each represents. The following video about archetypes will help you in this task. (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following is a theme that emerges in this chapter?
Ivar is talking about how ducks fly in formation, as pictured below. What does his respect for this order suggest about Ivar? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the highlighted sentence tell us about the narrator's views regarding pioneers? What does it tell us about the Bergson boys?
What words can you use to describe the relationship between Carl and Alexandra? Do you think that his departure will change things between them?
Which of John Bergson's children seems most dedicated to respecting his wishes?
The Frithjof Saga is an old Icelandic tale which dates back to the fourteenth century. Over the centuries, it was translated into different languages, and adapted by various authors. Below is a photograph of a statue of the main character of the tale. Why might this character be interesting to Alexandra? (This annotation contains an image)
Which theme is most present in this paragraph?
A dragharmonika is a Swedish instrument similar to an accordian. Follow the link below to hear one. (This annotation contains a video)
How does this opening of Part II compare to and contrast with the first page of Part I? What changes do you notice and how are these reflected in the mood?
After Alexandra, Marie is the most important female character in this book. How are they different, and what might Marie represent?
What do we learn about Alexandra in this chapter?
While silos (pictured below) were used even in ancient times, they were not popular in the prairie during the time of this novel. Notice how most of the people resist them; can you name a technological advance in our time that people resist? (This annotation contains an image)
Which of the following is not true about Ivar?
Can you guess what the highlighted phrase means? Here's a hint: sexual relations, even between a married couple, were never acknowledged.
Which best characterizes Alexandra's response to her brothers' complaints about Ivar?
At the time of this novel, Alaska was not even a formal territory of the United States, and it didn't become a state until 1959. It was an even greater unknown than the prairie was for Carl and Alexandra's parents. Below is a map from when Alaska belonged to Russia. (This annotation contains an image)
Carl's reappearance at this point serves several purposes. Which of the following does not seem to be one of them?
Quiz One - O Pioneers!
What does Carl mean by this?
What might be the source of Carl's unhappiness? Jot down a few ideas, and think about this again when Carl appears later in the novel.
This is one of the longest conversations in the novel, especially between Carl and Alexandra. What do we learn about each of them?
Alexandra is saying that
Watch the following video about emerging themes, and be prepared to answer a question about themes on the next page. (This annotation contains a video)
Which theme is featured in this conversation?
What purpose does this memory play in the story? What do we learn from it?
What do we learn about Frank in this chapter?
The reference is to the Gould family of railroad fame (seen below). Jay Gould was infamous as a robber baron, and many working farmers like Frank had little use for him and his capitalist ways. (This annotation contains an image)
Which word best describes the relationship between Marie and Emil?
Can you summarize, in your own words, what has happened between Emil and Marie? Why is he leaving?
Why do you think Emil has not yet married?
Pay attention to the various ways in which the author builds tension and creates the mood in this scene.
The author builds tension in this scene
Think about what you learned earlier about archetypes. What do Oscar and Lou typify, and what is their role in the story?
What can we infer from Alexandra's tears?
The lively video below will help remind you of the different types of figurative language. After watching it, explain how the author uses figurative language in the highlighted sentence. (This annotation contains a video)
What is the topic that remains unnamed between Alexandra and Carl?
Read the highlighted text aloud and think about why it is written this way.
What might Marie's flowers represent amid the stark winter?
The photograph below gives us an idea of the landscape in the winter. How does it make you feel? (This annotation contains an image)
Quiz Two - O Pioneers!
In the highlighted sentences, the author uses ___________ to show Marie's hopefulness.
The painting below by John Steuart Curry helps us imagine the countryside as the characters may see it. (This annotation contains an image)
What do you think of Alexandra's life aspirations? Do you think she is typical of women during her time and place?
To understand the different kinds of irony, watch the following video, and then think about irony in Frank's life as you continue to read. (This annotation contains a video)
What does the kiss mean to Marie?
What do Marie's comments in this chapter suggest about gender inequality as far as expectations of men and women? How do these views compare to the world you live in?
Which of the following is not true about Marie?
What do we know about Emil that Alexandra probably does not yet know? This is an example of dramatic irony.
Which words best capture the relationship between Alexandra and Emil?
In the late 1800s, the steam thresher was invented, saving farmers many hours of manual labor. Below is a photograph of one, where you can see it is a large machine. (This annotation contains an image)
Look up the term "hot-foot" and decide what we can infer from the highlighted sentence.
Read this highlighted paragraph aloud to appreciate the poetic nature of it. Pay attention to how the mood is shifting in these pages.
Jerusalem here is used as _________________________.
Listen to the following rendition of "Ave Maria" and try to describe the emotion it invokes. (This annotation contains a video)
How is the author preparing us for what is going to happen? What clues are you noticing?
How would you describe Frank's inner monologue right now? What does it reveal about him?
While the stories are very different, how does this description of Emil and Marie's pose in death compare to the image of Romeo and Juliet as depicted in the painting you just saw?
Look at the painting below of Romeo and Juliet's death, and be prepared to answer a question about it. (This annotation contains an image)
Religion---Protestantism or Catholicism--was deeply important to most pioneers during this time period.
Which part of the story helps set the mood in these pages?
Is the information in this paragraph consistent with what we know about Alexandra, or does it mark a change?
What motivates Alexandra to make the trip to Lincoln?
Jails are dehumanizing place, and prisons, as we know them today, even more so. Does the image below help you imagine Frank's feelings? (This annotation contains an image)
How do Alexandra's feelings about Marie's culpability help us understand her own life choices?
Is this Alexandra's way of telling Carl that she loves him?
What is Carl trying to tell Alexandra?
Watch the trailer from the 1991 film of O Pioneers. Does it seem that the film will be faithful to the main themes of the book? (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz Three - O Pioneers!