Independent People Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

After working for eighteen years for Bailiff Jon, Bjartur is at last able to buy, with a heavy mortgage, the croft (small farm) called Winterhouses. Proud of his new status as a landowner and fiercely independent, Bjartur promptly renames the place Summerhouses. It is a poor place, fit only for sheep grazing. The house, which Bjartur rebuilds, consists of one room over the stable. The walls are of sod, and the roof is made of a few sheets of corrugated iron covered with turf. Nevertheless, it is his own place, and Bjartur is determined to be a hired workman for no one and to put his trust in sheep. He chooses for his wife the twenty-six-year-old Rosa, a small, sturdy woman with a cast in one eye, who was also in service to the bailiff. Rosa is disappointed in her house, and Bjartur is disappointed in Rosa. He soon finds that she is already pregnant. He suspects, and is sure much later, that the lover is the bailiff’s son, Ingolfur.

After a few months of marriage, Bjartur leaves on a cold winter day to look for his sheep. Seeing a buck reindeer in the woods, he jumps on the animal’s back and attempts to subdue it. The reindeer, however, is too strong and takes off in mad flight for the river. With Bjartur still holding on, the animal swims downstream and finally lands on the other shore. Bjartur, nearly frozen to death, stays to recuperate at a nearby croft.

He returns home after several days to find his wife dead from childbirth and a baby daughter still alive. Disregarding the parentage of the girl, he proudly names her Asta Sollilja. The bailiff’s wife sends the pauper Finna and her mother to look after Bjartur and the baby. Finna is nearly forty years old but strong and well preserved. To settle the problem of the child’s care, Bjartur marries her.

Each year Finna has another child, usually stillborn. After some years, however, there are Helgi, Gvendur, and Nonni, and their half-sister Asta. The croft is crowded, and the beds are all dirty and filled with vermin, but the land is clear of debt.

A southerner comes to the croft one day to ask permission to camp and hunt. The stranger delights Asta, who is awkward and uncouth but bursting with love. The stranger hardly notices her, however, and each night he is gone most of the night. The reason for his visit comes out later, when the bailiff’s daughter leaves the country in great haste.

After little Helgi is lost on the moor, the tie between Asta and Bjartur becomes closer. When Finna dies from poor diet and childbearing, the father tries his best to make life easier for the girl. He refuses to let Asta go to school, but he does teach her much of the old Icelandic poetry. Bjartur takes Asta on his yearly trip to town, where, after doing the shopping, they stay overnight in a...

(The entire section is 1144 words.)