Peder Holm lives in three rooms. In one, he lives everything in English; here there is a magic touch. In the second, where he lives everything in Norwegian, things are more difficult. In the third room, only he and God are allowed. Before he was born, his mother had dedicated him to God, and God had become a very real person to the boy.
As Peder grows up, however, he is not always sure that God is the kind of being that his mother and the minister, Mr. Gabrielsen, talk about. Peder has been taught that God is love, and yet God is blamed for the death of Per Hansa, his father, the destruction of the crops, and the bleakness of the land. To Peder, such calamities cannot be reconciled with his God of love; he reads his Bible assiduously in an attempt to straighten out his thoughts.
Mr. Gabrielsen is sure that once Peder goes to seminary, he will be the right person to minister to the Norwegian settlement. The preacher expects English to supplant Norwegian as the common language there in the next twenty years, and Peder’s English is fluent, though still tinged with an accent.
The whole community is in a fever of change. After a long argument in church about disciplining a girl whose shame has caused her to hang herself, one group breaks away and establishes a second church. There are two schools, one strictly Norwegian and one taught in English, to which the Irish come as well. An imminent community problem is the division of the territory before it enters the union. Such matters arouse the people nearly to fighting pitch, and the meetings in which they are discussed offer fine entertainment to all within riding distance.
Peder’s mother, Beret, wants everything Norwegian kept intact; she tries to ensure that the children speak Norwegian to her at home, though this becomes hard after the children go to school. Most particularly, she wants Peder to enter the ministry. Often, though, she cannot understand him when he speaks English at school and church affairs. His voice is fine and loud, and he speaks often and enters into every kind of entertainment, which he finds right on the farm.
After a political meeting at the schoolhouse that Beret and her whole family attend and at which Peder recites Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in English, his teacher speaks at length to Beret about letting him speak English all the time so that he can lose his Norwegian accent. Beret is so disturbed by this request that she speaks to her husband’s picture that night. Although he seems to smile at her anxiety, she decides that Peder should go to the school that was attended only by...
(The entire section is 1074 words.)