Giants in the Earth

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Summary

Book II, Chapter III—"The Glory of the Lord"

Summary Book II, Chapter III—"The Glory of the Lord"

Some time later, Hans Olsa happily builds himself a real house for his growing family when he learns that Sorine is pregnant. As Per and Beret's closest friends, The Olsas discuss whether or not they should raise Peder Victorious, as they question whether Beret, in her madness, is fit to take care of the boy. However, they realize that Per will not consent.

Meanwhile, Beret fondly remembers the minister and thinks that his absolution has relieved her of many of her burdens. She dreams that Peder will one day become a minister. One day, Beret overhears Hans talking to Per about raising Peder. Per says that Beret needs her child with her and that he feels responsible bringing her to America. Beret overhears Per and feels a wave of happiness sweeping over her. She goes to play with Peder and then falls asleep. When she wakes up, everything looks strange to her, and she feels that she has been away for a long time. Per comes home and looks at Beret like a stranger. He weeps, realizing that her senses have finally returned to her.

Analysis

This chapter reveals the deeply religious nature of the early settlers. Tonseten, Per, and Beret all feel that they have committed heavy sins, but the minister comforts them by absolving them. The settlement reveres the minister because he is a man of God, even though he himself feels that he is inadequate to preach the word of God. In this chapter, especially in the case of Beret, the minister functions like a deus ex machina, an unexpected savior who unexpectedly arrives on a scene—usually at the end—to set everything right again. After all, the minister is the one largely responsible for Beret's mental recovery.

The minister's arrival in this chapter also provides further explorationof the contrasting personalities of Per and Beret. Per's religion is uncomplicated: he believes naturally that if one leads a good life, one will be blessed. He also sees nothing wrong in naming his son Victorious. Beret, on the other hand, is a deeply religious and superstitious individual. She feels the need for organized religion, and she thinks that the devil has created the plagues of locusts and the storms in order to punish the settlers for their transgressions—mainly their transgression of abandoning their homeland and heritage to come to America. Beret thinks that baptizing the boy Victorious is sacrilegious because she believes that no one can be "victorious" against the evil of the American wilderness. To her, the name also signifies the Americanization of the child, as Norwegian custom dictates that children do not normally receive second names. Indeed, Beret feels that the turning of one's back on one's heritage is the biggest sin the settlers are committing. Her need to talk to her dead mother and her need for religion symbolize her need to retain ties to her past and to the old country. The minister's sermon—telling the settlers that they should not forsake the truths and customs of their fathers—affirms Beret's belief that the settlers should retain ties to their heritage. Rölvaag himself uses the minister as a spokesman for his beliefs, as he himself believed that one should not forsake his or her cultural heritage.

As critic Paul Reigstad notes, the minister helps the immigrants bridge the gap between the Old World of Europe and the strange New World of America, using the emigrant chest as an altar during his service at Per's house. As a dominant motif in the novel, the chest symbolizes Beret's ties to the Norway, which she feels she has lost. One of Beret's family heirlooms, the chest embodies the continuity essential to the lives of these immigrants. In using the chest as an altar, the minister affirms Beret's belief in the sacredness of her heritage. The minister's sermon in this chapter also references a recurring motif of the novel—the comparison of the Norwegian immigrants to the Israelites. He explicitly compares the settlers' kingdom in America to the kingdom of Israel. Like the Israelites, the Norwegians of the novel immigrate to a new country in order to find their own version of the Promised Land.

Along with the minister, Per is also responsible for bringing Beret out of her madness. When Beret overhears Per say how much he loves her, how he feels wrong bringing her to America, and how he cannot let her part with her son, she feels a wave of tenderness that comforts her just like the minister's absolution. In this chapter, for the first time in the novel, Per recognizes that Beret is an example of the type of individual "who never should emigrate." Per recognizes the fundamental differences between himself and his wife: he belongs to America because he looks to the future, while his wife belongs to Norway because she looks to the past. The chapter ends on an optimistic note, however, as Per and Beret reconcile and Beret's sanity returns. Therefore, we probably expect that the novel will end just as happily, and may be surprised at what actually transpires.