what do you suppose it means?

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Answer does not need to be more than a couple of paragraphs.

Answer the question(s):

What do you suppose Alexandra means by “hav[ing] a whole chance”? Can the idea of capitalism rescuing people from “the idiocy/isolation of rural life” help us answer this question? And can it help us better understand the novel and its characters (e.g., Marie’s dissatisfaction etc.)?

Below is information relating to the question:

Let me ask you to think about one of the more (in)famous statements of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In The Communist Manifesto (1848), Marx and Engels wrote that one of the benefits of capitalism and industrialism was that they concentrated workers into the big cities, thus helping to rescue villagers from “the idiocy of rural life.”

This phrase is sometimes taken as a slam on country people, but it really isn’t. It would be better translated as “the isolation of rural life” — so it’s not at all a reference to farmers as idiots. As Graham Joncas puts it,

“What the rural population had to be saved from, then, was the privatized apartness of a life-style isolated from the larger society: the classic stasis of peasant life…. [I]n his Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), he [Engels] had written about the rural weavers as a class ‘which had remained sunk in apathetic indifference to the universal interests of mankind.'” (See

Marx used the phrase in the mid-19th century. By the late 19th century, in America at least, country dwellers like Alexandra Bergson were becoming less and less “isolated from the larger society.” But still, I wonder if we see traces of that isolation (and that “indifference to the universal interests of mankind”) in O Pioneers, e.g. in passages like this one:

“‘Yes, yes, Carl, I know. You are wasting your life here. You are able to do much better things. You are nearly nineteen now, and I wouldn’t have you stay. I’ve always hoped you would get away. But I can’t help feeling scared when I think how I will miss you — more than you will ever know.’ She brushed the tears from her cheeks, not trying to hide them.”

And this one:

“‘Well,’ said Alexandra firmly, ‘I do the best I can, on Marie’s account. She has it hard enough, anyway. She’s too young and pretty for this sort of life. We’re all ever so much older and slower. But she’s the kind that won’t be downed easily. She’ll work all day and go to a Bohemian wedding and dance all night, and drive the hay wagon for a cross man next morning. I could stay by a job, but I never had the go in me that she has, when I was going my best. I’ll have to take you over to see her to-morrow.'”

And especially this extended exchange:

“‘Do you know, Alexandra,’ he was saying, ‘I’ve been thinking how strangely things work out. I’ve been away engraving other men’s pictures, and you’ve stayed at home and made your own.’ He pointed with his cigar toward the sleeping landscape. ‘How in the world have you done it? How have your neighbors done it?’

“We hadn’t any of us much to do with it, Carl. The land did it. It had its little joke. It pretended to be poor because nobody knew how to work it right; and then, all at once, it worked itself. It woke up out of its sleep and stretched itself, and it was so big, so rich, that we suddenly found we were rich, just from sitting still. As for me, you remember when I began to buy land. For years after that I was always squeezing and borrowing until I was ashamed to show my face in the banks. And then, all at once, men began to come to me offering to lend me money — and I didn’t need it! Then I went ahead and built this house. I really built it for Emil. I want you to see Emil, Carl. He is so different from the rest of us!’

‘How different?’

‘Oh, you’ll see! I’m sure it was to have sons like Emil, and to give them a chance, that father left the old country. It’s curious, too; on the outside Emil is just like an American boy, — he graduated from the State University in June, you know, — but underneath he is more Swedish than any of us. Sometimes he is so like father that he frightens me; he is so violent in his feelings like that.’

‘Is he going to farm here with you?’

‘He shall do whatever he wants to,’ Alexandra declared warmly. ‘He is going to have a chance, a whole chance; that’s what I’ve worked for.'”

Final Answer

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tutorburuli (520)
New York University

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