Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 760
Isak, a sturdy Norwegian peasant, the rough-hewn, monumental hero of the novel. Starting out on his own, he clears some isolated forest land and builds a sod hut. He sends out word by way of some Lapps that he is looking for a woman, and eventually a robust, cleft lipped woman comes to live with him. Together they acquire livestock, better living quarters, sufficient crops, and a happy life blessed with four children. Then she is sent to jail for killing her newborn cleft lipped baby, and Isak is unhappily forced to live without her for five years. After her release, he is forced to make some adjustments to her new ideas, but things tend to go on as productively as before. He sells some ore-bearing property; he builds a saw-mill and a grain mill; he buys farming machinery; his children, for the most part, thrive; and he is made a Margrave—all the result of his fidelity to the soil and a fruitful way of life.
Inger, Isak’s hardy, loving, spirited wife. She admires her husband a great deal and lives contentedly with him, bearing his children and helping with the work. A rather primitive person but a woman of deep feeling, she gains some refinement in prison and has an operation that mends her cleft lip. After her return to Isak, she finds that their coarse way of life is hard on her, but because their relationship is based on mutual love and respect, they continue to live and prosper together.
Eleseus, Isak and Inger’s first child, a relatively weak man who becomes a village clerk. After an abortive romance, he goes from job to job, always with a taste for luxury and a penchant for failure. In the end, he leaves for America.
Sivert, the second child, a high-spirited, active boy. He takes naturally to the rough pioneering life of his parents and at last is fit to take his father’s place.
Leopoldine, the third child, a girl born in prison. She grows up on the farm and becomes an attractive, marriageable young woman.
Rebecca, the last child, born in Inger and Isak’s middle age, a likable, affectionate little girl.
Oline, a relative of Inger, a malicious and thieving old woman. Her gossip leads to Inger’s arrest for child murder; because Isak has no one else to help him, she is given the management of the household while Inger is in jail. An expert on domestic intrigue, she steals and lies. Later, her gossip leads to the arrest of another woman on the same charge. She dies when she is no longer wanted by anyone.
Geissler, a good friend of Isak and Inger, a mysterious, powerful man with a deep respect for men of sense and worth. He manages the sale of Isak’s mining property, secures a pardon for Inger, helps Isak irrigate his land, and always turns up to offer assistance. A lonely person, he has no real roots of his own.
Axel Ström, Isak’s nearest neighbor, a hardworking and sensible man who nevertheless has hard luck. After Barbro, his servant, murders her child by him and goes away to Bergen, Oline saves his life and forces him to take her on as his housekeeper. Finally Barbro, whom he really cares for, comes back, and they marry.
Barbro, Axel Ström’s servant, a shallow, frivolous woman who dislikes responsibility. Arrested for child murder, she is acquitted and placed with Fru Heyerdahl, the wife of the sheriff’s officer. After a time, Barbro decides that life with Axel will...
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be better than her present position.
Brede Olsen, Barbro’s father, a shiftless man unable to manage his jobs, his farm, or his boardinghouse.
Aronson, a well-to-do shopkeeper whose store fails when the mines close down. He buys it back when the mines reopen.
Os-Anders, a Lapp tramp who spreads Oline’s rumors.
Heyerdahl, a rather feckless man who takes over Geissler’s job as sheriff’s officer when he is fired.
Fru Heyerdahl, his outspoken wife; she defends Barbro at her trial and then tries to take her in hand.
Gustaf, a light-hearted miner with whom Inger has a slight romance in her middle age.
Uncle Sivert, Inger’s supposedly rich uncle; he has almost nothing to leave to anyone when he dies.
Jensine, Inger’s maid, a girl to whom Sivert takes a liking.