O Pioneers Suggested Essays

Suggested Essay Questions

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  1. 1

    Are Marie and Emil primarily responsible for their own deaths, or is Frank Shabata more culpable? If you think Marie and Emil are responsible, explain why Alexandra is right; if you think Frank is more responsible, explain why Alexandra is wrong.

  2. 2

    What does Alexandra mean when she says that "the people who love [the land] and understand it are the people who own it"? Do you agree? How would Lou and Oscar agree or disagree with her?

  3. 3

    When Carl Linstrum insists that he must leave Alexandra and go seek his fortune in Alaska, is he showing a strong or a weak character? In other words, is Carl Linstrum right to refuse Alexandra's offer to marry her and share her wealth?

  4. 4

    Alexandra tells Marie that Singa married Nelse rather than a man like Jan Smirka because "she was too much afraid of Nelse to marry any one else" and that the Norwegians are a "terribly practical people." Assuming that Signa and Nelse have a relatively happy marriage, how does this description contrast with Marie and Frank Shabata's relationship? Consider especially Marie's description of Frank's ideal wife.

  5. 5

    Throughout O Pioneers! Willa Cather suggests that Alexandra relates better to the land than to other human beings and that she is fitted more to the land than to the household or family. How does Alexandra's passion for the land affect her relationship with Carl? Consider whether Alexandra could feel as passionately for Carl as Emil felt for Marie?

  6. 6

    Willa Cather suggests an important connection between imagination and the pioneer spirit. Choose two characters in the book and analyze them in terms of their imaginations. What does imagination say about their ability to fill act as "pioneers"?

  7. 7

    One of the qualities that makes Willa Cather such a tremendous writer is her ability to create consistent, three-dimensional characters with realistic flaws and strengths. Mrs. Bergson is a good example of such a character. Analyze her flaws and strengths and explain how they are consistent with her character.

  8. 8

    Old Ivar tells Alexandra that "the way here is for all to do alike." He says that "they have built the asylum for people who are different." At the same time, Alexandra is so successful because she is willing to be different and to take risks that seem crazy to her neighbors. Why do you think that a landscape which sometimes necessitated great risk could give rise to a society which hated and feared those who were different? Try to think of historical analogues to this paradox.

  9. 9

    Many times in O Pioneers different characters suggest that it is wrong to kill wild birds and that there is something special about them. What might birds symbolize in the novel? Consider the people who want to protect wild birds and explain what that desire suggests about these characters.

  10. 10

    Is O Pioneers! a morality tale? What aspects of the novel suggest that it is?