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Three Generations Of Women In "O Pioneers !", A Novel By Willa Cather

2176 words - 9 pages

O Pioneers ! is a novel which was written in 1913 by Willa Cather. It is the story of the Bergsons, a Swedish family who came to the United States in the 1870s because they were attracted by the American Dream. The book focuses on the life of the elder daughter Alexandra, who becomes head of the family after her father's death. It is not a description of the struggle against the untamed land of Nebraska, it rather shows how the heroin achieves both a version of the American Dream and her self-fulfilment.Beside the heroine Alexandra, there are several women who are part of the story and who experience the pioneer life differently according to the generation they belong to.There are three generations of women in this novel and I will study chronologically three characters who are representative of these generations : first, Mrs Bergson, then Alexandra and finally Milly.Mrs Bergson is "a fair-skinned, corpulent woman, heavy and placid, but there is something comfortable about her ; perhaps it is her own love of comfort". Eleven years ago, in 1872, her husband John Bergson decided to move from their native Sweden to the USA, precisely to the little town of Hanover, which she considers as the end of the earth. She followed her husband because it was her duty as a good 19th century mother and wife and because she had no other choice. However, we know that she has never quite forgiven him.At the beginning, life was very hard, much harder than it is for Alexandra and her brothers after their father's death. First, Mrs Bergson was uprooted and had to try to adapt herself to a new place with different values. Moreover, nature was against the newcomers. She describes how life was : "Drouth, chince-bugs, hail, everything. My garden all cut to pieces like sauerkraut. No grapes on the creek, no nothing. The people all lived just like coyotes". The conditions of life were awful, but she resigned herself and tried to keep on being a good housewife and mother, and to reconstruct her old way of life in a new place. In fact, this is what keeps the family together : "her unremitting efforts to repeat the routine of her old life among new surroundings had done a great deal to keep the family from disintegrating morally and getting careless in their ways". Mrs Bergson is a tireless worker who makes a garden in the wild land and she preserves her family's cultural heritage, that is the traditions and customs from the Old World. We can't really say that she adapts herself to the new world, but she shows creativity and ingenuity when she tries to make the preserves she loves with new materials. "Preserving was almost a mania with Mrs Bergson". Either concerning traditions or concerning food, preserving is the way she has found to put up with this life. It reminds her of the old life that she wants to reconstruct. In a way, she has managed to find a kind of equilibrium and that's why, when her husband dies and her sons want to move, she...

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