Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Throughout this story several reversals occur. First, the outlaws are exiled from their friends, family, and community to the forest, where they must live like animals. The relationship of Berg and Tord is hierarchical—Tord initially serves Berg as he would serve a god, while Berg ignores him as a worthless suppliant. Later, when Tord becomes ill, this relationship reverses and the two men become friends. Within a friendship, there exists a state of equilibrium, a state in which Berg ceases to think of Tord as a weak, petty thief, and in which Tord ceases to serve Berg as a god. This period of friendship begins with Tord’s illness and climaxes during their time on the lake fishing. After the appearance of Unn, a final reversal occurs. After Tord learns about Christianity, he considers himself to be better than Berg. Tord still wishes Berg well and sincerely begs Berg to confess, but he feels compelled by the invisible chains of justice to kill Berg, thus sacrificing their friendship for an abstract sense of morality.

In her most famous book, Gösta Berling (1891; The Story of Gösta Berling, 1898; also as Gösta Berling’s Saga, 1918), Selma Lagerlöf recounts the adventures of a disgraced minister, a man who, like Berg, is handsome and well liked, but who has sinned. This book ends with Gösta Berling saying that there is a riddle in life: How can a person have fun and be good too? Unable to solve this riddle, Gösta...

(The entire section is 406 words.)