Places Discussed

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Ice church

Ice church. Naturally formed, domelike place of peace made entirely of ice that is the main setting of acts 1 and 5. Located high in an unspecified region of the mountains of Scandinavia, this “church” symbolizes the inflexible side of Christianity and materially exemplifies Brand’s belief that salvation must come through total suffering and sacrifice. Predictably, this religion is not merely cold and heartless, but also ruthlessly unrelenting.

Village church

Village church. Presumably, a small, Lutheran state church. While this church is meant to be the center of village life, religion here has grown lifeless and ritualistic and meaningless. Henrik Ibsen uses it to symbolize the lack of warmth and love among Christians. It is thus torn down by Brand and his followers.

New church

New church. Replacement for the previous village church. Built by Brand, the mayor, and the village people, this new building and new church are immediately rejected by them at the opening ceremony and the key is thrown into the river. It is meant to be a church where all the congregants will worship God in an “all or nothing” fashion; however, this proves impossible after Brand realizes that God is one of love and not of law.

Historical Context

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Charles Darwin In November 1859, the English naturalist Charles Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species, and the world was never the same again. Darwin's theory of evolution, based on his plant and animal research from a five-year voyage around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle, posed the idea that all species had evolved from a limited number of common ancestors through a process known as natural selection. Through natural selection, only those animals that possessed the random mutations necessary to adapt to changing environments were able to reproduce often enough to pass on their genes successfully. Viewed over a long timescale, these mutations could cause one species to evolve into a totally new species. Darwin's theory had horrible implications for the religion. If humans had evolved, they said, it challenged the idea of a human creation by God and, some said, the very existence of God.

Land Disputes in Northern Europe In the mid-1800s, two wars broke out in connection with the administration of two duchies, Schleswig and Holbein. Although the lands had been under Danish rule for centuries, the inhabitants were mostly German. In 1863, when the Danish King, Frederick VII, tried to formally annex Schleswig, the German inhabitants revolted. The neighboring Germanic country of Prussia got involved and encouraged Austria to support its war against Denmark for control of the duchies. In 1864, the Norwegian parliament voted not to back Denmark in its fight against Prussia, a decision that disgusted Ibsen and others who supported a united Scandinavia. The Danish army was easily defeated by Prussian forces later that year, and Denmark turned over control of the two duchies to Prussia and Austria. Prussia and Austria split the administration of the territories between them—Austria controlled Holstein, and Prussia controlled Schleswig. This arrangement led to tensions between the two countries, which then took up arms against each other in 1865 in the Austro-Prussian War, also known as the Seven Weeks' War. Prussian troops, making use of railroads and using newer breechloading rifles, easily conquered the Austrian and other Germanic forces, which were still using older, muzzle-loading guns. In addition to annexing the combined SchleswigHolstein, Prussia's win also led to its annexation of five of Austria's six allies, instantly changing the political landscape of Germany.

Alfred Nobel's Discovery of Dynamite While the breech-loading rifle represented a major advance in the design of...

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guns, at the same time, a Swedish pacifist, Alfred Nobel, was working on an invention that would eventually change the face of explosives—and battles—forever. In 1866, Nobel, who was manufacturing and performing dangerous experiments on nitroglycerin—an explosive liquid—set off an accidental explosion that ruined his factory and killed his brother and workers. Although the Swedish government refused Nobel's request to rebuild his factory after the explosion, the next year, Nobel, whom some called a mad scientist, was able to perfect his discovery, combining the liquid nitroglycerin with sand to create portable explosive sticks known as dynamite.

Literary Style

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Verse Drama Ibsen wrote his play as a verse drama, also known as a dramatic poem, a play that is composed entirely of lines of poetry. This more romantic, less realistic style of play is less common in modern drama. From the first conversation in the play, the exchange between Brand and the peasant man, it is evident that the play is a verse drama. The first sign is that the dialogue is arranged into lines, as opposed to paragraph style. For example, when the peasant is describing the bad weather conditions and the near invisibility of Brand in the fog, he says: "The mist is closing in so thick, / A body's eyesight barely passes / Beyond the measure of his stick.’’ This example also illustrates the second sign that marks the play as a verse drama—the rhymes. Although the rhymes continue throughout the poem, they do not follow a set pattern or scheme, as many rhyming poems do.

Symbolism Ibsen is known for heavy use of symbolism in his plays, and this one is no different. The play incorporates a number of aspects that symbolize religious objects or ideas. For example, the mountains suggest proximity to God as the setting of the natural Ice-Church, which collapses on Brand at the ambiguous end, as the place where God answers Brand's exclamation prior to his death, and as a setting where characters retreat from the perversions of humanity, such as Brand's self-imposed exile. Believing that the church is not large enough, Brand builds another one, then realizes his mistake, telling the people, ‘‘Out from here, where God is not! / Can He dwell in such a spot,’’ and then throwing the keys to the new church into the river. Brand has realized that, no matter what kind of church he builds in the valley, it will always be tainted by humanity. As a result, Brand goes into the mountains and, ultimately, ends up at the Ice-Church.

Other religious symbols that Ibsen plants in the mountains include Brand himself, who, after being stoned by the villagers, resembles Christ. Says Gerd when she sees Brand’s wounds: ‘‘On thy brow, the red drops stand / Where the thorns’ sharp teeth have caught it! / Aye ‘tis thee the Cross did bear!’’ In addition, Gerd sees the vision of a hawk, which she says is ‘‘Compromise,’’ ambiguously symbolizing either the lack of religious conviction in many of the peripheral characters or the overbearing will of Brand.

Satire The play also makes use of satire, a technique used to depict characters or their actions in a manner that scorns and ridicules to prove a point that the playwright wishes to make. In this case, Ibsen satirizes many government or social institutions, through many general characters such as the sheriff and the dean. The sheriff is depicted as an unscrupulous person who will do what it takes to maintain harmony in the village. When the sheriff first meets Brand, he does not like the pastor, since Brand does not give comforting sermons. The sheriff makes this clear when he comes to visit Brand and encourages him to leave, letting him know that ‘‘You've set all harmony ajangle.'' At the end of the play, when the villagers follow Brand into the mountains, the sheriff is not worried and uses a lie to win the villagers back: "Because a shoal of fish / Has come into the fiord—by millions!'' When the sheriff and the dean are discussing this miracle later on, the sheriff admits that there are no fish:

Besides, a day or two days hence, When folk have found their common sense, Who'll care a rap if victory Was won by truth or by a lie?

This comment satirizes government officials who are willing to lie or to perform other dishonest deeds in order to get their way. The dean is also a morally suspect character, who gives Brand all sorts of advice about how to tone down his sermons and serve two masters—the people and the state: "Our working days you know, are six; / We save the seventh for emotion.'' The dean has relegated religion to one day a week so that the majority of the week can be devoted to work activities, which more directly benefit the state. This type of mentality contradicts Brand's entire style of life and satirizes the government institutions that hold this same view.

Compare and Contrast

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Late 1850s-Mid1860s: Denmark and Norway face unification issues, which eventually factor into the two wars in Northern Europe over the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. At the same time, the United States faces its own unification issues, which erupt in a vicious civil war.

Today: The United States stands unified against a common enemy—terrorism—following vicious attacks by terrorist groups on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Late 1850s-Mid1860s: Swedish pacifist Alfred Nobel performs a number of experiments on explosives. These experiments lead to the creation of nitroglycerine, which ultimately takes the portable form of dynamite. This powerful explosive is sometimes employed as a weapon.

Today: Terrorists make isolated attacks using bacteriological weapons like anthrax, and there is some concern that terrorists may resort to other, newer forms of warfare.

Late 1850s-Mid1860s: Charles Darwin publishes his landmark argument about evolution, On the Origin of Species, which shakes up the religious and educational worlds, igniting a controversy between creationists and evolutionists.

Today: Most public schools teach evolution, which is a respected scientific discipline. Academia explores the links between science and religion and identifies some potential bridges between the formerly contradictory disciplines.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Bradbrook, M. C., Ibsen, The Norwegian: A Revaluation, Archon Books, 1966, p. 43.

Deer, Irving, ‘‘Ibsen's Brand: Paradox and the Symbolic Hero,’’ in Ibsen: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Rolf Fjelde, Prentice-Hall, 1965, p. 52, originally published in The Lock Haven Bulletin, Series 1, No. 3, 1961, pp. 7-18.

Gosse, Edmund, ‘‘Ibsen's Social Dramas,’’ in Fortnightly Review, Vol. XLV, No. CCLXV, January 1, 1889, pp. 107-21.

Heiberg, Hans, Ibsen: A Portrait of the Artist, translated by Joan Tate, University of Miami Press, 1969, pp. 125, 129, 132, 134-35.

Ibsen, Henrik, Brand, translated by F. E. Garrett, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd., 1960.

Koht, Halvdan, The Life of Ibsen, translated by Ruth Lima McMahon and Hanna Astrup Larsen, Vol. 2, W. W. Norton & Company, 1931.

Lucas, F. L., The Drama of Ibsen and Strindberg, Cassell, 1962, pp. 62, 66-67.

Further ReadingAdler, Stella, Stella Adler on Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekhov, edited by Barry Paris, Vintage Books, 2000. This book offers an engaging way for actors and nonactors alike to approach works by the three play-wrights. Adler, a famous actress and acting instructor, discusses the best way for actors to approach roles in the plays, while giving an academic analysis of the major works.

Donnelly, Marian C., Architecture in the Scandinavian Countries, MIT Press, 1991. Donnelly's book gives a detailed account of Nordic building, starting with the remains of structures that date back to 7,500 B.C. and continuing through to the 1970s. The book covers structures and the architects who created them, from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroes.

Goldman, Michael, Ibsen, Columbia University Press, 1998. Goldman explores the often-overlooked connection between Ibsen's dramatic art and the effects that specific dramatic techniques have on audiences who experience the plays. The book offers a thorough discussion of many of Ibsen's major plays, including Peer Gynt, The Master Builder, A Doll's House, and The Wild Duck.

Kierkegaard, Søren, The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, 2000. Most critics acknowledge the profound influence that Kierkegaard had on Ibsen's beliefs and on his dramatic works. This comprehensive anthology collects the major works of the nineteenthcentury Danish philosopher.

Marker, Frederick J., and Lise-Lone Marker, Ibsen's Lively Art: A Performance Study of the Major Plays, Cambridge University Press, 1989. In this production study of six of Ibsen's major plays, the Markers explore nonEnglish theatrical productions from other countries, including Germany, Russia, France, and Scandinavia. The book covers early productions from Ibsen's life up to more modern and unconventional interpretations of the plays in the twentieth century.

Roesdahl, Else, The Vikings, Penguin USA, 1999. Brand mentions the legendary exploits of the Vikings, the Nordic conquerors who initially inhabited the Scandinavian countries. Traditionally, Vikings have been largely viewed as lawless pirates who plundered at will. In her extensive study, Roesdahl digs underneath the legends, incorporating the latest archaeological research to provide an accurate description of the geography, culture, and lifestyle of the Vikings. The book also includes a section on how the Vikings have influenced modern culture.


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Bellquist, John E. “Ibsen’s Brand and Når vi døde vågner: Tragedy, Romanticism, Apocalypse.” Scandinavian Studies 55, no. 4 (Autumn, 1983): 345-370. A discussion of Brand’s extreme idealism, which causes him to sacrifice the interests of his family members as well as his own life and happiness. Bellquist regards Brand as a typical Aristotelian tragic hero.

Eikeland, P. J. Ibsen Studies. New York: Haskell House, 1934. A collection of four essays. The essay on Brand, a particularly good introductory discussion for the general reader, emphasizes Brand’s Christianity, his willingness to admit to error, and his commitment to following his conscience.

Hurt, James. Catiline’s Dream: An Essay on Ibsen’s Plays. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972. A survey of Ibsen’s works. Contains a good discussion of Brand’s spiritual struggles and the opposition between love and will as organizing principles in life.

Lyons, Charles R. Henrik Ibsen: The Divided Consciousness. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. A volume with studies of seven Ibsen plays. The essay on Brand discusses the play’s tension between the spiritual and the carnal.

Sohlich, Wolfgang. “Ibsen’s Brand: Drama of the Fatherless Society.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 3, no. 2 (Spring, 1989): 87-105. A discussion of Brand’s family relationships as a key to Ibsen’s depiction of the social transformation at the time. The article relies heavily on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide