The Scarlet Essay Research Paper Characters versus

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The Scarlet Essay, Research Paper Characters versus Community Lisa Fails April 11, 2001 Literature 421 #762381 Characters versus Community 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 kindness, because Ivar is different. In a land that celebrates individualism and the pioneering spirit, the pull of conventional opinion is often irresistibly strong. By defying public attitudes, Alexandra proves herself a true individualist. Cather begins her support of Alexandra’s character when the father, John Bergson, surpasses his two older sons to give the land to Alexandra. Although he wants to follow in tradition, he knows that Alexandra is devoted to keeping the family land that he has strived so hard to

build and keep within the family. Three years after John’s death Alexandra’s tensions with her family begin. The Divide suffers a drought that drives several families from their land. Lou and Oscar fail to remember their father’s dreams and instigate for Alexandra to sell the land and move on, but she doesn’t. Her character is torn because not only is her family against her, her beloved friend Carl is moving also. She begins her thought process about staying on the Divide. She thinks of her father and her conversation with Ivar, and although she seems hesitant at first, she decides to remain on the Divide and cultivate a new system for the land. Cather’s portrayal of Alexandra’s family is similar to how Nathaniel Hawthorne depicts the Puritans in The Scarlet Letter.

Hawthorne’s central character, Hester Prynne, has committed the sin of adultery. In a Puritan society during that year she would likely have been stoned to death, but Hawthorne continues his character, only to let her endure emotional pain inflicted upon her by her community. Hawthorne does provide a sanctuary in the form of the mysterious forest. However, Hawthorne uses the forest to provide a kind of “shelter” for members of society in need of a refuge from daily Puritan life. In the deep, dark portions of the forest, many of the crucial characters bring forth hidden thoughts and emotions. The forest track leads away from the settlement out into the wilderness where all signs of civilization vanish. This is precisely the escape route from strict mandates of law and