At the beginning of Book II, Rölvaag personifies the Great Plains as a monster that increasingly resists the encroachment of man: "Man she scorned; his works she would not brook." Such personification of the land throughout the novel emphasizes the power of the land over the characters. Rölvaag also characterizes the land as possessing elements of Scandinavian folklore, such as magic, witchcraft, and trolls, to further suggest the malevolent power of nature. The scene in "On the Border of Utter Darkness" in which Per becomes caught in the fierce blizzard provides a dramatic example of this conflict between humans and nature—a struggle that dominates the action of the novel. The desolation and harshness of the prairie environment are responsible for most of the major tragedies of the novel: Beret's depression and loss of sanity, the plague of locusts, and the deaths of Per and Hans Olsa at the end. In light of the fact that Per, the novel's optimist, dies in the end, we may feel that the land proves the victor in the battle between humans and nature. Nonetheless, Per recognizes that someday the land will be tamed and will yield rich farmland, making the settlers prosperous.
To Per, the land represents his kingdom; he imagines himself a fairy-tale hero, and, as a landowner, he feels like a king or a prince. The land embodies Per's euphoric dreams as he toils hard to build a successful life for his family. However, the unfamiliar prairie also represents Beret's hidden fears, and the desolation of the land mirrors her loss of sanity.