In Ibsen's Brand, the title character has such strength of conviction that he sacrifices everything, including his family, to stick to his beliefs. On the surface, this appears to be a noble thing to do. In fact, many critics, like Edmund Gosse, who in the 1889 Fortnightly Review notes that the play is a ‘‘beautiful Puritan opera,’’ have seen Brand as a hero. However, as Irving Deer states in his 1961 article, "Ibsen's Brand: Paradox and the Symbolic Hero,'' this is not a foregone conclusion with all critics. Wrote Deer, ‘‘Simply stated, the controversy boils down to whether Ibsen intended him to be a hero or a villain.’’ By studying Brand's spiritual journey, however, it appears that Ibsen meant to show Brand as a man who ultimately goes mad from the strain of trying to reconcile the contradictory ends of religious fanaticism and humanity.
At the beginning of the play, the audience is led to believe, as are the peasant and his son, that Brand is not a normal human. He claims himself to be "a Great One's messenger’’ and shows little concern for the bad weather in the mountains, which the Showbill cover from the theatrical production of Brand, written by Henrik Ibsen and directed by Craig D. Kinzer peasant fears will kill them all if they continue on. Brand says he is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if God requires it: "If of my life the Lord hath need / Then welcome precipice and flood!’’ The peasants think that Brand is crazy and do not follow him. Brand notes that these peasants, like most others in the world, are unwilling to make ultimate sacrifices: ‘‘Much will they give with willing mind, / Leave them but Life, dear Life, behind.’’ With this thought, Brand suddenly remembers his childhood and ‘‘two fancies of the brain'' that he had. He describes these states of mind as "An Owl that dreads the dark, a fish / With waterfright.’’ In other words, as a child, he had a fear of living the life that he was meant to live. Just as an owl is meant to live at night and a fish is meant to live in water, Brand felt that he was ‘‘bound to bear’’ a burden and, as a child, had a moment of weakness about this fact.
This passage introduces the idea that Brand is not invincible, as audience members might first believe after seeing him risk his life and survive harsh mountain weather whereas normal mortals turn back. It also underscores the idea that Brand is different from many other humans, who live in fear most of their lives, as other characters show. Brand is so strong in his mission for God that the fears only appear to have plagued him when he was a child. At this point, the audience gets another glimpse into Brand's past, when he runs into Agnes and Einar—a boy with whom he went to school. Einar describes Brand's childhood as follows: ‘‘Aye, the same solitary elf / Whom, still sufficient to himself / No games could ever draw away.’’ Brand, with his philosophical thoughts and fears about the meaning of his life and his greater mission, chose to isolate himself from the other schoolchildren. This is an important idea that Ibsen plants in the beginning because it foreshadows what will eventually happen to Brand as he alienates himself from the human race as a whole.
It is appropriate, then, that after Brand meets Einar in the mountains, he runs into Gerd, a mad little gypsy girl who has visions. She questions Brand: "You saw the hawk just now?’’ Brand is not mad, however, and so cannot see the visions that Gerd speaks of. Gerd is not deterred. When they start to talk about the church in the valley where Brand is headed, Gerd makes mention of a much more impressive one,"A church built out of ice and snow!'' Brand recognizes that Gerd is talking about the Ice-Church, a natural, chapelshaped structure that exists in the mountains, but he warns Gerd that she should not go...
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