Independent People

by Halldór Kiljan Guðjónsson

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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.

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