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Giants in the Earth

Summary

Book I, Chapter VI—"The Heart That Dared Not Let in the Sun"

Summary Book I, Chapter VI—"The Heart That Dared Not Let in the Sun"

Analysis

In this chapter, Rölvaag further emphasizes Beret's inability to adapt to life on the prairie. Beret sinks deeper and deeper into a depression, as the winter increases her feelings of desolation and loneliness and makes her feel like an exile in the prairie wilderness. Although we may attribute her depression to her pregnancy, we must remember that her real depression stems from homesickness. In short, Beret hates America and wants to return to Norway.

As Rölvaag examines Beret further, the tone of the novel becomes increasingly tragic. In the first few chapters, Per dominates as the main character, and the tone of the novel remains optimistic. However, now that Beret has become the main character, the tone of the novel turns dark. Rölvaag proves to be more interested in characterization than plot. Through Per and Beret, the author examines the immigrant experience as a psychological experience. Since Per and Beret symbolize everyman and everywoman, Rölvaag records both the triumphs and tragedies of other immigrants through them. We may assume that Rölvaag chooses to record the triumphs of the pioneers through Per and the hardships of the pioneers through Beret. However, we must keep in mind that Per and Beret are married and are therefore, in a sense, one person. The couple represents the fact that every immigrant had to experience both success and defeat. Every immigrant had to leave his homeland because he or she dreamed of a better life in America.

Here, Rölvaag reveals the psychological suffering of Beret to such an extent that we feel sympathy for her just as Rölvaag seems to. Beret's inner psychology is revealed more often than Per's because Beret is a more introspective person. Per, as a man of action, primarily dominates the novel's plot. However, Beret remains the heart of the story, the center of the main conflict and the fulcrum of the novel's increasingly dark tone. This chapter also presents Beret's deeply religious nature. As her depression grows, she feels haunted by religious guilt as she recalls the sins of her past.

Here, Rölvaag provides a flashback as Beret thinks about her past in Norway—an interlude that offers a background and history to the novel's present action. While Per and Beret appear increasingly unable to communicate with each other, we should note that they were once quite capable of expressing their fondness to each other and even now still care deeply for one another. Per refused to stay in Norway and refused to accept the financial help of Beret's parents because he wanted to control his own destiny. While Beret does not like America, she does not blame Per for persuading her to come—she blames herself for agreeing. She even believes that she is a burden to Per because she cannot be strong like him. On the other hand, Per still thinks of Beret as a fragile princess, and he wants to build a kingdom on the prairie for her. Beret's emigrant chest, with the inscription "Anno 16-," functions as a major symbol in the novel. The chest symbolizes her ties to her old country and her family in Norway, as the chest has belonged in her family for generations. By wanting to be buried in the chest, Beret, in a sense, feels that she can symbolically return to Norway.

When Beret gives birth to a son on Christmas Day at the end of this chapter, we feels that the major threat—Beret's death—has been averted and that the novel's tone must necessarily lighten from this point forward. After all, the fact that the child is born on Christmas and is born with an auspicious caul serves as a harbinger of hope and optimism. Per feels optimistic that Beret's spirits will return to normal, and he expresses his optimistic vision by choosing to name the child Peder Victorious—choosing the unusual name because he believes that his family will be victorious in America and will ultimately conquer the land.