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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 180

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Independent People is a novel by Icelandic author Halldór Laxness, published in two volumes in 1934 and 1935 (and first published in English in 1945). It recounts the struggles of a poor sheep farmer amid the isolated world and harsh climate of early 20th century Iceland.

Guðbjartur Jónsson, known as Bjartur, is the main character. He is a farmer who, after many years toiling on another’s land, finally buys a plot of his own. He is obsessed with independence and making his own way.

Bjartur brings his wife, Rósa, along with him to the new farm, and soon finds that she is pregnant by another man, Ingólfur Arnarson. When Bjartur leaves his home to search the mountains for the demon he believes may be haunting his farm, Rósa dies in childbirth, but the baby, Ásta Sólilja, survives. Bjartur decides to raise her as his own.

Other important characters in the story are Finna, Bjartur’s second wife, her mother, Hallbera, as well as Bjartur’s and Finna’s three surviving sons, Helgi, Gvendur, and Nonni.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618

Gudbjartur Jonsson (Bjartur)

Gudbjartur Jonsson (Bjartur), a stubborn, roughly poetic, often cruel, fiercely independent crofter. He loses two wives, one quickly, the other after years of his harshness. He rears Asta, knowing of her illegitimacy. He loses several children in their infancy, Helgi as a child, and Nonni to a home in America. Only Gvendur remains after the ejection of the pregnant Asta, but even Gvendur longs to join Nonni in America and, later, to join the political radicals opposed to the Icelandic government. At last, reunited with Asta after the loss of his big, unfinished home by foreclosure, Bjartur takes her and her children to live with him and Hallbera in the old woman’s sod home. Bjartur appears to be a symbol not only of the Icelandic peasant but perhaps of land-loving, independent farmers the world over.


Rosa, Bjartur’s first wife, a small, sturdy woman with a cast in one eye; she is pregnant with Asta when she marries Bjartur. A believer in tradition and folk superstition, she opposes Bjartur’s scorn of these things. She dies when Asta is born.


Finna, Bjartur’s second wife, a pauper sent by Madam Myri to care for Asta. She dies after several years of poor diet, rapid childbearing, and unfeeling scorn and neglect, climaxed by Bjartur’s slaughter of her beloved cow.

Asta Sollilja (Sola)

Asta Sollilja (Sola), Rosa’s romantic, imaginative daughter, doomed to unhappiness. Pale-faced and dark-haired, she has, like her mother, a cast in one eye. Pregnant by a drunken, tubercular tutor, she is thrown out by Bjartur, has another child by another father, and is carrying a third when Bjartur comes for her. Independent like Bjartur, she has rejected the offer of Ingolfur, her father, to help her. Consumptive when she is reunited with Bjartur, she has only a short time to live but finds joy in the anticipation of being again with the first man she ever loved. It is ironic that, having lost all his own children, Bjartur should seek out the daughter he had scorned as having none of his blood in her. Symbolically, the two strong independents are drawn to each other.


Gvendur, Bjartur’s son who plans to join Nonni in America but who decides to remain at home after falling in love with Ingolfur’s only daughter, who later shuns him as an inferior.

Jon (Nonni)

Jon (Nonni), Bjartur’s younger son, who goes to America to join an uncle just before World War I.

Ingolfur Arnarson Jonsson

Ingolfur Arnarson Jonsson, Asta’s father, manager of a cooperative society.


Helgi, Bjartur and Finna’s first son, lost on the moor.

Bailiff Jon of Myri

Bailiff Jon of Myri, Bjartur’s employer for eighteen years. Slovenly, like a tramp in appearance, he is nevertheless more forceful and complex than the men over whom he exerts authority. Bjartur dislikes him.

Madam Myri

Madam Myri, poet wife of Bailiff Jon and mother of Ingolfur Arnarson. She has an aristocratic consciousness of her superiority to people like Bjartur and Rosa.

Thorthur of Nitherkot

Thorthur of Nitherkot, Rosa’s father, a serenely stoical old man.

Pastor Gudmundur

Pastor Gudmundur, the parish minister, who is also an able farmer and breeder of fine sheep. Blunt and gruff in speech, he combines superficial Christian views with his apparent unconcern for unfortunate people whom he regards as contemptible sinners.


Hallbera, aged mother of Rosa.

Audur Jonsdottir

Audur Jonsdottir, ladylike daughter of Bailiff Jon. When she leaves for Reykjavik, Bjartur suspects it is because she is pregnant by a man who camped on his land some time earlier.


Fritha, a talkative, complaining old woman who works one summer for Bjartur.