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.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Postwar Boom
The much ballyhooed prosperity of the 1920s, the so-called Jazz Age, was largely confined to the upper-middle...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Giants in the Earth is set in the so-called east-river region of what is now South Dakota, that is, along the Big...

(The entire section is 667 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth explores timeless themes of immigration, fear, loneliness, myth, and religion.

1. Relate...

(The entire section is 116 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Giants in the Earth was O. E. Rolvaag's most influential novel. It chronicles the story of a group of Norwegian pioneers who make the...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1870s: Prior to the 1880s, the majority of immigrants to the United States came from the British Isles and northwestern Europe.


(The entire section is 415 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Research the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and explain how the provisions of the act might have affected the land claims of the settlers...

(The entire section is 105 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Willa Cather's My Antonia (1918), a family of Bohemian immigrants confronts the hardships of pioneer life, including poverty and...

(The entire section is 114 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Rolvaag's first fictional work, titled Amerikabreve (Letters from America), was published in 1912 in Norwegian under the pseudonym...

(The entire section is 81 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, is Dee Brown's critically acclaimed 1970 account of the methodical annihilation of Native Americans by...

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Joseph E. Baker, "Western Man against Nature: Giants in the Earth," in College English, Vol. 4, No. 1,...

(The entire section is 955 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gross, David S. No Place to Hide: Gothic Naturalism in O. E. Rölvaag. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993. Relates traditional gothic tradition to Rölvaag’s use of the frontier as a gothic setting of terror and wonder, which is especially a problem for Beret. Includes treatment of frontier and immigrant life.

Reigstad, Paul. Rölvaag: His Life and Art. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972. Examines Rölvaag’s novels in a biographical context, revealing the forces and influences that shaped Rölvaag’s work. Relates the treatment of folklore, myth, and Norwegian religious beliefs and values to...

(The entire section is 268 words.)