Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Great Plains

*Great Plains. Also known as prairie land, the largely flat grassland region of central North America spanning the region between Oklahoma and central Canada that is used for extensive cattle ranching and grain crops. To Per Hansa—a former fisherman—the prairie appears a sea of grass. At sunset its glowing rim resembles the horizon of a vast ocean. His wagon leaves a track like the wake of a boat, closing in rather than widening out astern.

As the novel opens Per Hansa has temporarily lost his way. Calming his anxiety he dreams of opportunities the prairie offers—on this land he could build a kingdom of his own. His wife, Beret, finds the immensity of the prairie frightening. To her, the landscape appears cold, bleak, and full of terror. She is uneasy in a world so different from the beloved Norway she has left behind and fearful that trolls might lie in wait within this strange new environment.

In the second half of the novel, after Beret gives birth to Peder Victorious (whose story continues in Peder Victorious, 1928), the Great Plains environment becomes increasingly hostile. The problems afflicting the settlement convince Beret that trolls are at work; the prairie is attacking the intruders. Rölvaag makes use of disasters that actually struck Dakota’s pioneers. The grasshopper plagues of the late 1870’s devastated many settlers. All who lived through the powerful winter snows of 1880-1881 remembered that year with horror. The incredible snow...

(The entire section is 624 words.)