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Giants in the Earth

Book II, Chapter I—"On the Border of Utter Darkness"

Summary Book II, Chapter I—"On the Border of Utter Darkness"

After a few days, the men leave and return to their settlement. One day, Tonseten suggests that they all adopt family names according to the American custom. Per Hansa decides to become Per Holm while Hans Olsa decides to become Hans Vaag. Beret is the only one who does not like the idea of changing names. She believes that changing her name would be a sacrilege and that they should not turn away from their roots.

In March, Per hears that the Indians near Flandeau sell fur for a fraction of the selling price in Minnesota. He decides to buy a supply of fur and then resell it for a profit. Against Beret's wishes, Per leaves at once to trade with the Indians. He makes such a big profit from his first visit that he returns twice and altogether makes a profit of $140. Beret, however, does not share her husband's excitement over his financial success.

Analysis

Like Book I, Book II begins with a description of the vast prairie landscape of the Great Plains, emphasizing the importance of the land to the story. It is significant, however, Book I begins during the summer, while Book II begins during the winter. In the beginning of this chapter, Rölvaag personifies the Great Plains as a monster that increasingly resists the encroachment of man: "Man she scorned; his works she would not brook." We should remember that the prairie itself is perhaps the main character of the novel, and that the personification of the land throughout the novel emphasizes the power of the land. In the beginning of this chapter, Rölvaag imbues the land with elements of Scandinavian folklore, such as magic, hobgoblin sense, and witchcraft, to further suggest the malevolent power of nature.

In this chapter especially, Rölvaag emphasizes the struggle between man and his environment. He emphasizes the harshness of winter—the cold, snow, and silence—on the new settlers, who are still new to the region. The scene in which Per is caught in the fierce blizzard provides a dramatic example of the theme of man against nature. Rölvaag provides an extended, epic metaphor comparing the blizzard to a sea storm. He makes this comparison in order to reference Per's former profession as a fisherman in Norway and to link the harshness of the prairie winter to other hostile acts of nature.

In each chapter, Rölvaag offers a mini-climax followed by a resolution. Beret's labor proves to be the culminating climax of Book I, and the final resolution of Book I seems to suggest that she will survive and return to her old self. In the beginning of Book II, Beret's spirits return somewhat, but her depression eventually recurs. The climax of this chapter occurs during the blizzard, but Per pulls through to safety—this time. We may be surprised that the final chapter does not have such a neat and tidy climax and resolution.

The motif of the West also reappears in this chapter. In the spirit of manifest destiny in nineteenth-century America, the West symbolized the spirit of new life and optimism for pioneers. Per proves time and again to be a natural pioneer who appears to belong in the West, as he constantly imagines going westward. He often looks to the western horizon and imagines traveling westward, as he does in this chapter when he is caught in the blizzard. For him, the West symbolizes optimism. In contrast, Beret belongs to the East, to the Old World of Europe, and she cannot adapt to life on the prairie. Her frail nature demands the comforts of her old country and cannot endure the uncivilized life in the new land. In America, she is paralyzed by fear.