Giants in the Earth

by: O.E. Rölvaag

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

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

While the men are gone, Kjersti tells Beret that the Irish claim that the land belongs to them. Beret realizes that the stakes that Per destroyed belong to the Irish. Beret is struck by a sense of horror that Per now wants to drive the Irish away. One evening, Per tells everyone about how he found and destroyed the stakes. Everyone, except Beret, praises him. In front of everyone, Beret reproaches Per for committing a crime.

Analysis

In this chapter, Per Hansa meets his greatest challenge yet when he finds the land stakes, as he realizes that it means he and his neighbors could lose their land. The chapter begins with the same optimistic tone that has dominated the novel thus far. However, the tone abruptly changes when Per discovers the stakes on Tonseten's land. For the first time in the novel, Per feels imperiled. He removes the stakes and burns them because he wants to protect his friends and prevent the breakup of his community. He knows that the people who placed the stakes in the land may someday return to claim the land as theirs. He knows that he is violating a law by removing the stakes, but he commits the act anyway.

This chapter further contrasts the personalities of Per and Beret. Per is a man of action, while Beret is a thinker, and more passive. Per burns the stakes to save his friends, and he can sleep well because his conscience does not bother him. Beret recognizes that he acts with good intentions but she cannot, in the end, justify his actions. She is the one haunted by his sin because she demands the comfort and order of organized law and religion, and she believes in following the law to the letter. In the first few chapters of the novel, Per has been the main character. At this point in the story, Rölvaag begins to focus more attention on Beret. As the chapter ends, Per and Beret further drift apart in their relationship because they cannot understand one another.

This chapter also reveals Per's role as the leader in his community. He decides not to tell anyone about his removal of the stakes because he wants to shoulder all the responsibility on himself and because he does not like to ask for help. We should note that stakes are found only on Hans Olsa's and Tonseten's land, not Per's land; therefore, Per removes the stakes to protect his friends, not himself. When the Irish return to claim their land, Per takes charge of the potentially dangerous situation because he is both brave and intelligent. In contrast, Hans proves to be strong but mentally slow; Tonseten proves to be talkative and quick-witted, but somewhat cowardly; the Solum boys are still relatively young and timid. Per, therefore, becomes the natural leader.

Many references to Scandinavian folklore, such as the references to the castles and trolls, appear in this chapter. A number of critics, such as Einar Hauges, have pointed out that Per regards himself as a Norwegian fairy tale hero, known as Askeladd or Ashland. Askeladd was the youngest of three brothers, neglected and scorned by them, but the only one of them who overcame the obstacles to find the Castle of Soria Moria—a place that represents perfect happiness in Norwegian folktales—and win the princess of the kingdom. Per often thinks of his land as his kingdom, and he often imagines having to battle adversaries or having to overcome obstacles to protect his kingdom. Per's fairy-tale daydreams represents his euphoric vision for building a prosperous life in America for his family.

This chapter also makes many references to trolls. In Scandinavian folklore, trolls are often giants or dwarfs who can be friendly but are more often evil and hostile creatures. Per refers to the Irish as trolls because he perceives that the Irish pose as threats to his community. The Irish threaten his community because they claim that the land belongs to them. Throughout the novel, Per often refers to the obstacles he must overcome in America—Beret's depression, for instance—as trolls that stand in his path toward the castle of Soria Moria.