Growth of the Soil

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The protagonist of the novel is a man named Isaac, later surnamed Sellanraa after the farm he carves out of the wilderness in northern Norway. He is a man without a past, but also without any of the cultural baggage of contemporary life. As a pioneer, he is similar to many of the heroes of Western American literature.

The novel begins by detailing the growth of Isaac’s farm as he clears the land, builds shelter, and acquires both farm animals and a wife, Inger. Disfigured by a harelip, she casts her lot with Isaac only because she lacks other suitors. Inger is fearful that one of her children will inherit her defect, which indeed happens to her third baby, a girl. Knowing the suffering that is in store for the infant, Inger kills her, later confesses her crime, and is sent to prison for five years.

During this time, she has an operation on her lip, is educated in modern life, and, in Hamsun’s view, is spoiled by civilization. When she returns, she is no longer satisfied with the simple life on the farm. More settlers arrive in the area, and copper is discovered in a nearby mountain, which leads to the establishment of a mine with all of its attendant problems. At the end of the book, Isaac’s (and Hamsun’s) ideal way of life is, for all practical purposes, gone.


Ferguson, Robert. Enigma: The Life of Knut Hamsun. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1987. The best biography of...

(The entire section is 437 words.)