Essay Characters versus Community in O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Essay Characters versus Community in O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

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Characters versus Community in O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

In the novel O Pioneers! the author Willa Cather?s vision of Alexandra Bergson is consistent in character treatment with other authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne (Scarlet Letter), and Stephan Crane (Maggie: A Girl of the Streets). In each novel, all authors possess a central character that has an obvious tension between themselves and their community. Unlike the previous authors, Cather?s sympathies lie toward Alexandra. She makes Alexandra seem artificial because she has given a woman (also being her main character) strength and courage, along with power to overcome those who wish to pull her down.

In the novel O Pioneers!, Alexandra Bergson is the novel's central protagonist. Alexandra?s character is a model of emotional strength, courage, and tenacity. As the eldest child of the Swedish immigrant John Bergson, she inherits his farm and makes it profitable. Because Alexandra is best suited to perform the labor of prairie life (mentally and physically), she is a prototype of the strong American pioneer and an embodiment of the untamed American West.

Cather portrays the tension between Alexandra and the community in the first four chapters of the section, entitled "Neighboring Fields." Alexandra, an iconoclast, who challenges the close-minded and petty world of small-town America, in which Lou and Oscar, her older brothers, are in one accord with. To an extent, Alexandra's brothers are bound to tradition, obsessed with popular opinion, and frightened by unconventional thought. Just as Lou and Oscar initially resist Alexandra's vision of the land's future and later her innovative farming techniques, they also ridicule her impulse to treat Crazy Ivar with k...

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...poses. Who is to blame for these tragedies that continue to repeat themselves, tragedies that recycle?

Crane?s handling of Maggie is one that is very American. It leaves the reader without closure of the character. After Maggie?s death her mother wants too forgive her, but it is all too late. Nathaniel Hawthorne?s treatment of Hester Prynne was too be expected because of the society she lived in and of course because her ?mistake? (Pearl) would be with her always reminding the community of what she did. Willa Cather is the only author of these three to give her main character, who just happens to be a woman, a positive role within her community despite the tension between the two.


Cather, Willa. O Pioneers!. Eds. Susan J. Rosowski, Charles Mignon, and Kathleen Danker. The Willa Cather Scholarly Edition. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1992.

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