Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In Independent People, author Halldor Laxness creates what could be classified as a family saga—one that depicts the struggles of a peasant farmer and his family in a time of political and social strife. The novel is more a story of Iceland than it is of a man. The protagonist, Bjartur of Summerhouses, lacks depth and feeling, and his life is reduced to a struggle for survival in a harsh and unforgiving environment.
Bjartur’s world is defined by natural forces strong and foreboding; they loom larger than his life. His only wish is to live independently free of debt, and to that end, he spends his life as an impoverished sheep farmer engaged in a continual struggle to survive. Independent People takes place in the years immediately following World War I, and Bjartur conforms to the image of the early Icelandic settler as stoic, steadfast, and strong. But his fight for independence is merely a fight against natural forces—forces that in Nordic mythology take the form of giants, ogres, and trolls. The story of Bjartur of Summerhouses is a snapshot of Icelandic life as it was centuries ago when people settled in remote areas of the world and idealized the idea of living off the land. Like Bjartur, they sacrificed emotion and joy as they engaged in what became a continual fight against formidable forces as they struggled to tame them.