Study Guide

Beyond Our Power

by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Beyond Our Power Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

In an industrial city of coastal Norway the workingmen were on strike against the factory owners. They were forced, by their poverty and low social status, to live in a dank chasm below the city, called Hell.

The strike dragged on, and from day to day the people grew more desperate and restive. Maren Haug, a worker’s wife, was so distracted by the futility of the situation that she bolstered her courage with liquor and killed her two children and herself. The entire community of Hell attended the funeral, which was conducted by the good but ineffectual Pastor Falk. After the funeral service, the people gathered in what constituted the community square. There they listened while Falk tried to give them Christian advice; he told them that they should not despair, that they should avoid all violence, that the situation demanded understanding and patience.

As he talked, Bratt, a former pastor who was now leader of the workers’ union, appeared and the crowd joined him Bratt harangued the workers with hate-filled words about the injustices suffered by the inhabitants of Hell, and he revealed that the owners were to meet that night in the castle, which had been bought and rebuilt by the town’s most affluent manufacturer. Bratt’s attitude suggested that violence might be done the owners while they were assembled in the castle, a symbol of their wealth and power.

As the workingmen trooped away to get money at the union office in Hell, Elias Sang, a young sympathizer of the workers, joined Bratt. Elias, in seeking solutions to the workers’ plight, had been avoiding Bratt. Now, under Bratt’s demagogic influence, he had changed; he appeared to believe that Maren Haug’s recourse was one that more of the workers should take, that sensational examples of martyrdom would impress the owners and public opinion. Elias, clearly determined on more violent methods than those already employed, left Bratt deeply disturbed.

Meanwhile the industrialist Holger had turned his hilltop mansion over to Rachel, the sister of Elias; it was to house the workers’ convalescent hospital that she had established. Rachel and Elias, who were from the northern part of Norway, had inherited a fortune from an aunt in America, and they had put their fortune into worthy endeavors. Elias devoted his time and money to the cause of the union; Rachel had established a hospital and a liberal newspaper. Holger, Rachel’s friend, was about to move into the medieval castle he had recently bought and restored. At the same time he took under his own supervision his niece and nephew, Spera and Credo, the children of his late liberal brother, Summer. Since the death of their parents Rachel had been their guide and mentor.

When a delegation of workingmen called on Holger for the purpose of settling the strike, his highhanded attitude greatly incensed them. Aroused by his insults, one workman leaped at Holger’s throat, but was...

(The entire section is 1206 words.)