O Pioneers Summary and Analysis
by Willa Cather
Part IV, chapters v - viii
Amedee undergoes an emergency operation for appendicitis. When Frank learns about Amedee, he heads to the saloon for drink and gossip, leaving Marie to call Alexandra for the details. Upon hanging up Marie considers how devastated she would be if Emil were to become ill. She decides to tell Alexandra about their love for each other as soon as Emil leaves. Marie then takes a pensive walk; as she passes a pond she reminds herself that she could escape through suicide as a last resort. The next morning, Alexandra tells Emil that Amedee died overnight.
As the Church prepares for Amedee's funeral, more than one hundred children from town also prepare for confirmation. Emil is invited to participate in the cavalcade to greet the boys. At six that morning, Emil meets them; at first they are melancholy about Amedee's death. They cannot help but feel happy as they gallop in the fields, however, wishing they had something noble and brave to fight for. A bishop, who has arrived in town for the confirmation, expresses pride in the boys' spirit. When they meet the Bishop, he sees them and feels proud. They pass the spot where Pierre Seguin is digging Amedee's grave and look away.
The church fills for the confirmation. Emil, who sits in Amedee's empty pew with some of his mourning relatives, notices Frank arrive without Marie. As his friend Raoul Marcel sings "Gloria" and "Ave Maria," Emil thinks about his love. The music consoles him and he feels that Marie is not Frank's in any important way. Following the confirmation, Emil goes to dine at Moise Marcel's where Frank is also invited. After dinner, Frank goes to the saloon and Emil accompanies Raoul, who has been asked to sing again for the Bishop. Emil slips out and rides away from the church; passing Amedee's grave on the way, he feels that Amedee has entered paradise. As though without his will, Emil rides to Marie's to say goodbye.
Emil arrives and ties up his horse in the Shabata barn. No one is in the house and he can't find Marie. Still, he decides to say goodbye to "the orchard, the mulberry tree." In the orchard, Emil sees Marie supine on the grass and for a moment he thinks she's dead. He reaches for her and she wakes, telling him she was dreaming about him.
Frank Shabata arrives home that evening, drunk, and he sees Emil's horse. He searches for Emil in the house and barn before half-consciously taking his gun from the closet and heading towards the orchard. Near the hedge, Frank spots Emil lying with a girl in the grass. Enraged and drunk, Frank raises his gun and fires three times and sees two figures fall.
Frank flees on Emil's horse, horrified and guilt-ridden. He rides for Hanover, desperate to catch a train to Omaha. His ride is horrible and guilt-ridden, full of hate for his wife but, more than anything, hate for himself. He realizes that he broke Marie's spirit. Still, afraid of the consequences, he refuses to return to his house.
Old Ivar finds Emil's horse the next morning and soon pieces together the murder. Both Marie and Emil are dead-Emil died instantly and Marie bled to death, having dragged herself to the hedge and back to Emil's body. Alexandra, also up early out of concern, sees Ivar returning. She thinks he is drunk until he tells her that "sin and death" have come "for the young ones."
This section of the novel begins and ends with death, thus presenting two different kinds of tragedy. Amedee's death provokes superficial sadness throughout the town, but Cather suggests that only Amedee's close friends and family truly mourn him. His death brings out the callousness of this place, for here life is too hard for a single death to bring life to a halt. The town goes on with its small celebrations and moments of joy, hardened by the awareness that such death is possible within their own family spheres as well. Such sudden turns of fate are to be expected in the unforgiving Divide. The change in fate is especially brutal in that Amedee is one of the only truly content characters in the novel. The Divide spares no one.
Emil seems accept the general belief that he must seize what happiness he can, while he can. That Emil comes to this realization at a church baptism is ironic, for in seeking out Marie he sins against common Christian propriety. Emil's momentary fear that Marie is dead when he finds her sleeping in the orchard underscores his determination to take happiness from the moment: she too might pass away at any moment. Cather leaves it up to the reader whether Emil and Marie are at fault for giving in to temptation. She merely delineates the dilemma: seek happiness through sin, or accept misery through abnegation. The characters, indeed, seem to act according to forces greater than mere will. They do not carry their love; they are carried by their love.
Similarly, Frank's murder seems to act through him. The situation, rather than the character or morality of the actor, creates the murder. When Frank Shabata kills Emil and Marie, he no desire to kill them. Later, he thinks to himself, if only he had not brought the gun, because the lack of a gun was the only way that scene could have ended any differently.
O Pioneers Essays and Related Content
- O Pioneers: Major Themes
- O Pioneers: Essays
- O Pioneers: E-Text
- O Pioneers: Questions
- O Pioneers: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Willa Cather: Biography
- O Pioneers Summary
- About O Pioneers
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, chapters i - iii
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, chapters iv - v
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, chapters i - iv
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, chapters v-xii
- Summary and Analysis of Part III, chapter i - Part IV, chapter iv
- Summary and Analysis of Part IV, chapters v - viii
- Summary and Analysis of Part V, chapters i - iii
- Settling the American Frontier: The Homestead Act
- Related Links on O Pioneers
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources