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Giants in the Earth

O.E. Rölvaag

Book I, Chapter III—"Rosie!—Rosie!"

Book I, Chapter II—"Home-Founding"

Book I, Chapter IV—"What the Waving Grass Revealed"

Summary

The settlers realize that their food supplies are vanishing. The men plan a trip to town, seventy miles away, where they can buy provisions. They need food, clothing, tools, and farm equipment. Hans, Tonseten, and Henry Solum decide to make the trip to buy supplies for everyone else. Per feels sour because he wants to go too, but the others decide that Per and Sam Solum should stay to protect the women. A fear of the Indians has already risen among the settlers.

Meanwhile, Per plows his fields with his son Ole's help. Suddenly, Store-Hans races over to announce that the Indians are coming. Per remains calm, giving orders to the others to remain calm as well. He senses that the Indians are peaceful. Per sends his sons to collect Sorine and Kjersti because he thinks that the two women may feel vulnerable while their husbands are away. Soon, everyone gathers at Per's house, and he sets the women at ease by calling them a "sewing circle." When the settlers' cows gallop away in the direction of the Indian camp, Beret says that someone should go after them.

Per takes Store-Hans with him to see the Indians and to get the cows back. Excited about meeting the Indians, Store-Hans asks his father questions about them. As they walk toward the tents, Per sees some men sitting around smoking pipes. Per approaches them but finds communicating with them difficult because he only knows a little English. However, Store-Hans comes to his aid by acting as an interpreter. Per motions to a friendly-looking man that he would like some tobacco, and the Indian gives him a small pouch of tobacco.

In the camp, Per notices a sick man and discovers that the man has an injured hand. Per examines the hand and determines that the man may have blood poisoning. Because he knows how to treat such wounds from his experiences as a fisherman in Norway, Per decides to treat the man's wounded hand. Store-Hans goes back to fetch some cloths and some liquor, and he returns with Beret. Although Beret is afraid of the Indians, she stays to help Per. Throughout the night, Per continues to look after the man's hand, changing the bandages from time to time. The Indian's hand slowly begins to heal. After a few days, the Indians break camp. Before they live, the injured man gives Per a pony for looking after him.

The next day, Hans, Tonseten, and Henry return from their trip to town with all sorts of goods for everyone. All the residents get together at Hans's house to talk and celebrate. Suddenly, the settlers realize that their cows are missing. Everyone except Per thinks that the Indians stole them. Ole, Store-Hans, and Anna Marie are upset because they miss their beloved cow, Rosie. During the night, Per and Beret hear Store-Hans sobbing, and Per comforts his son by telling him that he will find Rosie.

At the crack of dawn, Per gets up to look for the cows. Even though Beret asks him not to go, he decides to leave anyway. He meets Hans, who tells him that the cows may be in heat. Per asks Hans to look after his wife and children. In the evening, the whole settlement gathers at Beret's house to talk, but they feel uncomfortable because Beret is so moody. After they leave, Beret hangs some clothes over the windows and barricades the door with her heavy emigrant chest.

Per returns with the cattle on the next day. He also brings a young bull and some chickens that he bought from some Norwegians. He explains that he bought the bull so that the cows could have some male company and, therefore, would not have a reason for running away again.

Analysis

In the beginning of this chapter, Rölvaag again emphasizes the desolation of the land to portray the difficult lives of the early pioneers. The critic Einar Hauges has suggested that there are strong overtones of Robinson Crusoe in Rölvaag's novel. Just as Daniel Defoe tried to show how life could be sustained on a remote desert island in Robinson Crusoe, Rölvaag tries to show how a community can be created and sustained in the wilderness of America.

Critics have debated whether Giants in the Earth should be thought of as Per's story or as Beret's story. So far, Rölvaag treats Per as the main character and the hero of the story, spending more time chronicling Per's thoughts and actions. Per proves to be resourceful, brave, and physically strong. In many ways he resembles an epic hero because he seems to perform incredible feats, like building the biggest house in the settlement and plowing an acre and a half in one day. Per is also the only character who does not seem to be afraid of the Indians. So far in the story, the dominant tone has been one of optimism because the novel has centered on Per. However, Beret's fears sometimes interrupt the optimistic tone, and soon, we see Rölvaag focus more of his attention on her.

Already, we sense that Beret suffers from something far greater than fear and homesickness. She begins to suffer from severe depression because she finds life on the prairie so unendurable. She hangs heavy clothes over the windows and barricades the door with her heavy emigrant chest—a symbolic tie to the Old World—so that she can block out the prairie. Her actions may be a sign that she is not quite mentally stable. In an era before psychiatrists and anti- depressants, Beret's depression would prove difficult to treat, and might perhaps be remedied with methods that we would now consider crude or unorthodox.

The scene with the Native American visitors shows us that they pose no real threat to the immigrant settlement. The Norwegians fear and expect the worst from the Native Americans, a fear ingrained in their imaginations from hearing racist, second-hand stories about the Native Americans' alleged desire to scalp settlers. Contrary to these stories, the Native Americans prove to be quite friendly.

Rölvaag tends to treat the events of the novel as simple and everyday and universal, as he wants to provide the novel with a wide, epic perspective. These events may have happened to anyone, which augments Per and Beret's status as everyman and everywoman. Per may be compared to an epic hero; Rölvaag often treats Per as a superman who believes that his strength is infallible. An epic, like Homer's Iliad or Odyssey, typically records the heroic achievements of a central hero. Epics often employ the use of an undefined or universal setting, a long journey, and supernatural beings who control the events. In its way, Giants in the Earth is a Scandinavian epic. In fact, many other Scandinavian authors who previously wrote sweeping epics, such as the Nobel Prize-winner Knut Hamsun, influenced Rölvaag when he wrote his novel.

Indeed, the novel's full title, Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie presents the novel as a saga. Sagas are Scandinavian epics that focus on prominent, heroic figures and events. Sagas may also be long narratives of a particular place, historical era, person, or family. We may once again argue that the land is the main character of Rölvaag's novel, as the title refers to the novel as a saga of the prairie, not of the Hansas.

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