Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 865
Willpower Depending on how one looks at the ambiguous ending of the play, Brand's iron strength of will is either a curse or a blessing. If one interprets the ending statement, ‘‘God is Love!’’ to mean that Brand should have focused less on prideful will and more on love, then...
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Depending on how one looks at the ambiguous ending of the play, Brand's iron strength of will is either a curse or a blessing. If one interprets the ending statement, ‘‘God is Love!’’ to mean that Brand should have focused less on prideful will and more on love, then it is a curse. If, however, one takes the voice to mean that God is acknowledging Brand's hard work and welcoming him to heaven at the hour of Brand's death, then his will is a blessing. In any case, Brand's will is his personal driving force, and it becomes the driving force of the play. With rare exception, the other characters are not able to use their strength of willpower in the absolute way that Brand does. As Brand notes after the peasant and his son refuse to cross the mountains to be with the peasant's dying daughter, Brand would help people like this if he could: "But help is useless to a man / Who does not will save where he can!
In other words, if somebody is only willing to give up items that are expendable, then it is not a true sacrifice. When it comes to giving up irreplaceable items, such as one's life, most people fail the test, as Brand says: ‘‘Much will they give with willing mind, / Leave them but Life, dear Life, behind.’’ Brand, however, follows his own ideal, as one of the village men notes after Brand braves the stormy fiord to administer last rites to a man. Says the village man, ‘‘You have the strength.... The way you showed, you went, at length.’’ In other words, Brand is not all talk; he has done exactly what he said he was going to do.
In the majority of cases, Brand's will is tied to his religious conviction. Unlike the villagers, who Brand says follow a ‘‘bald, grey, skullcappated God,’’ a meek divine being that is convenient for the villagers, Brand's God is a powerful vision from more devout times: ‘‘And He is young, like Hercules,— / No grandad in the seventies.’’ Brand's vision of God does not allow a compromise. Instead, Brand, in serving his God, adheres to the phrase ‘‘Naught or All!’’ which does not give room for compromise. Throughout the story, he lives by this strict code and insists that anybody who follows him does the same. At the end of the play, a number of townspeople become inspired by Brand's impassioned sermon and follow him into the mountains.
However, it is not long before the crowd starts complaining about the harsh conditions in the mountains. ‘‘I haven't had a crumb today,’’ says one person, instigating several to ask for food and drink. Other people cry out such complaints as "My child is sick!’’ and ‘‘My foot is sore!’’ Brand admonishes them: ‘‘The wage before the work you claim,’’ saying that they need to work before they will get their salvation. Several members of the crowd take this to mean that they will get their salvation during their lives and start asking very specific questions such as "Can I be certain of my life?'' and "What's my share, when the prize is won?'' Brand tells them that they must give up their tendency to compromise and that their reward will be in heaven, and the crowd, who feels tricked, turns on Brand. The rigid religious conviction that Brand demonstrates is not inherent in most of the other characters, who do not have enough patience or faith.
As part of the strength of will and the religious conviction that Brand requires of his followers, he also instructs them to make certain sacrifices other than their lives, such as giving up earthly ties like money. When Brand's mother tells him she is bequeathing the hardearned family fortune to him, as long as he hoards it after she is dead, Brand refuses to do this. He also refuses to give his mother her last rites until she gives the money away to charity: "That of free will you cast away / All that binds you to the clay.’’ However, Brand's mother is unable to make this sacrifice and so goes to her grave without receiving her last rites. In addition to their lives and money, characters must also be willing to sacrifice the lives of other loved ones. Brand does this with his mother when he refuses her last rites. He also sacrifices his son, Alf, and calls upon his wife to perform this sacrifice willingly. Even after Alf is dead—as a result of the cold weather of the mountain parish that Brand refuses to abandon—Brand asks Agnes to give up all of her memories of the child, even to sacrifice his baby clothes. Although Agnes does this, Brand is doubtful that she has done it wholeheartedly: ‘‘Did you with a willing heart / Face the gift, nor grudge the smart?’’ In other words, in order for Agnes's sacrifice to be totally pure, she must not only willingly give away the clothes but must do so without bitterness. Although Agnes eventually succeeds, most characters in the play are not able to make this type of sacrifice.