Places Discussed

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Ice church

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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 guns, at the same time, a Swedish pacifist, Alfred Nobel, was working on an invention...

(The entire section contains 2353 words.)

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Critical Essays


Teaching Guide