The Father Summary
“The Father” is an 1860 short story by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson about Thord Overaas, a prideful man who is humbled by the death of his son, Finn.
- Thord visits the priest concerning three occasions in Finn’s upbringing: his baptism, his confirmation, and his wedding. Each time, Thord pays the priest handsomely, using the occasion to demonstrate his status.
- Just before Finn’s wedding, he and his father are rowing across a lake. Finn falls overboard and drowns.
- A year later, Thord returns to the priest, looking haggard. He has sold his property, and he donates half of the profit to the church.
Last Updated November 3, 2023.
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s short story “The Father” begins with a visit by Thord Overaas, “the wealthiest and most influential person in his parish,” to the parish priest. Thord’s son has just been born, and Thord wants him to be baptized. When the priest asks what name the father has chosen for his son, Thord responds that the boy will be named Finn after his own father. The child’s sponsors are to be the “best” of Thord’s relatives. Thord has one more request, but he hesitates in making it. Finally, he tells the priest that he would like his son to be baptized in a private ceremony, the very next Saturday at noon. When the priest asks if Thord has any other requests, Thord says no and makes as if to leave. Then the priest rises, takes Thord’s hand, and prays that God grant that his son may be a blessing.
Sixteen years go by, and Thord visits the priest once again. The priest remarks that Thord has not seemed to age at all, and Thord responds that he has “no troubles.” Thord has another implicit request. His son is to be confirmed the next day, and Thord wishes to know which place the boy will stand in during the ceremony. He remarks that he will not pay the priest until he finds out. The priest responds that Thord’s son will stand in the first place, and Thord gives the priest ten dollars. Having settled his business, he leaves.
Eight more years pass, and Thord visits the priest with several other men. He is coming to ask the priest to publish the marriage banns for his son, who is engaged to Karen Storliden, whose father, Gudmund, is one of the men with him. The priest remarks that Karen is “the richest girl in the parish”; Thord merely responds, “So they say.” The priest makes no further comment as he writes the couple’s names in his record book. When Thord places three dollars on the table, the priest reminds his guest that he only asks for one dollar. Thord replies that since he only has one child, he wishes to “do it handsomely.” The priest accepts the money with the remark that Thord has now appeared in his study three times on his son’s behalf. “But now I am through with him,” Thord answers as he folds his wallet and walks out, followed by the others.
Two weeks later, Thord and his son are crossing the lake on their way to Finn’s fiancée’s home to plan the wedding. Finn comments that his seat is not secure, and he rises to fix it. At that moment, he slips, yells, and falls into the water. Thord quickly extends an oar, and his son reaches for it, but the lake is cold, and his body quickly stiffens. Thord tries to move the boat closer, but Finn looks at his father and sinks.
Thord cannot believe what has just happened. He holds still and stares, thinking that Finn will soon rise again, but only bubbles appear three times before the lake is smooth and quiet once more. Neighbors watch as Thord spends “three days and three nights” on the lake, trying to find his son’s body. At last, on the third morning, he pulls Finn from the lake and carries him home.
Almost a year from that day, the priest hears someone in the corridor outside his study. He opens the door to greet a “tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair.” At first, the priest does not recognize him, but he...
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comes to see that the man is Thord. The priest remarks that he is walking rather late, and Thord confirms the lateness of the hour before taking his seat. The two men sit in silence for a while, and eventually Thord speaks again. He has something, he says, that he would like to invest as “a legacy in my son’s name.” Then he places a large sum of money on the table. The priest counts it and comments on the great quantity. Thord explains that he has sold his home that very day, and the money in the priest’s hands is half its purchase price. The priest says nothing for some time and then asks Thord what he will do now. Thord responds, “Something better.” The two men sit a while longer, the priest looking at Thord and Thord looking at the floor. Finally, the priest tells Thord that his son has indeed brought him “a true blessing.” Thord, weeping, agrees.