- Marie is first described as being dressed as a Kate Greenaway character would be.
- In the first chapter, the children are said to be reading works by Hans Christian Andersen and "the Swiss family Robinson".
- In the fourth chapter, Alexandra is said to like to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poetry.
- Many copies of the book are accompanied with the poem, "Pioneers! O Pioneers!" by Walt Whitman, which is said to be where the title comes from.
- The romance between Emil and Marie and their death alludes to the similarly tragic lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid's book Metamorphoses. Clear evidence of this occurs on page 173 where "the white mulberries...were covered with a dark stain", directly corresponding to Ovid: nam color in pomo est.
- In the first chapter of Part II, Emil and Marie mention John Huss.
- In the first chapter of Part II, Emil's letters are said to mention Porfirio Díaz.
- In the second chapter of Part II, Lou mentions William Jennings Bryan.
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