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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 234

Independent People, by Halldor Laxness, is the story of Bjartur of Summerhouses, a poor sheep farmer in rural Iceland, who, in his desire to live independently, endures a life of poverty and hardship and engages in a constant struggle for survival. Bjartur always works hard, but he is indebted to others and subjected to harsh treatment and brutal working conditions. Finally, he saves enough money to buy some land in a remote area of Iceland, and he begins a new life there as a sheep farmer. He marries a local woman named Rosa, who gives birth to a baby girl, Asta Sollija, who, as Bjartur soon discovers, is the child of another man. Rosa dies in childbirth, but Bjartur raises the baby and loves her as his daughter.

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Bjartur eventually remarries, has three sons, and continues his life of drudgery. He suffers as he struggles against the land; he loses one son when he moves to America, he loses another to death, and he rejects his daughter and banishes her from Summerhouses when she becomes pregnant at the age of 15. Despite Bjartur’s hardships, however, he perseveres and lives independently as best he can until he can no longer survive at Summerhouses. He then resigns himself to give up sheep farming and take out a loan on Summerhouses. He reconciles with his daughter, rents a home further north, and continues his life of hardship.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1144

After working for eighteen years for Bailiff Jon, Bjartur is at last able to buy, with a heavy mortgage, the croft (small farm) called Winterhouses. Proud of his new status as a landowner and fiercely independent, Bjartur promptly renames the place Summerhouses. It is a poor place, fit only for sheep grazing. The house, which Bjartur rebuilds, consists of one room over the stable. The walls are of sod, and the roof is made of a few sheets of corrugated iron covered with turf. Nevertheless, it is his own place, and Bjartur is determined to be a hired workman for no one and to put his trust in sheep. He chooses for his wife the twenty-six-year-old Rosa, a small, sturdy woman with a cast in one eye, who was also in service to the bailiff. Rosa is disappointed in her house, and Bjartur is disappointed in Rosa. He soon finds that she is already pregnant. He suspects, and is sure much later, that the lover is the bailiff’s son, Ingolfur.

After a few months of marriage, Bjartur leaves on a cold winter day to look for his sheep. Seeing a buck reindeer in the woods, he jumps on the animal’s back and attempts to subdue it. The reindeer, however, is too strong and takes off in mad flight for the river. With Bjartur still holding on, the animal swims downstream and finally lands on the other shore. Bjartur, nearly frozen to death, stays to recuperate at a nearby croft.

He returns home after several days to find his wife dead from childbirth and a baby daughter still alive. Disregarding the parentage of the girl, he proudly names her Asta Sollilja. The bailiff’s wife sends the pauper Finna and her mother to look after Bjartur and the baby. Finna is nearly forty years old but strong and well preserved. To settle the problem of the child’s care, Bjartur marries her.

Each year Finna has another child, usually stillborn. After some years, however, there are Helgi, Gvendur, and Nonni, and their half-sister Asta. The croft is crowded, and the beds are all dirty and filled with vermin, but the land is clear of debt.

A southerner comes to the croft one day to ask permission to camp and hunt. The stranger delights Asta, who is awkward and uncouth but bursting with love. The stranger hardly notices her, however, and each night he is gone most of the night. The reason for his visit comes out later, when the bailiff’s daughter leaves the country in...

(The entire section contains 1378 words.)

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