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

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.

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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.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 730


Summerhouses. Small farm, formerly wintering pens for sheep, in a mountain valley of north-central Iceland. The story’s protagonist, Gudbjartur Jonsson, fulfills his dream of becoming an independent man by buying Summerhouses, a marginal tract of heath, and raising his own flock. To the south rise desolate mountains with glaciers, and ranges extend to the east and west, making the farmstead an island of fertile land within the surrounding desert highlands. Furthermore, it lies under a legendary curse, haunted by the Irish sorcerer Kolumkilli and the witch Gunnvor. In a major theme, these spirits symbolize the harsh, alien hostility of the environment to human occupation; everyone before Bjartur has been driven from Summerhouses. To avoid the humiliation of eating the bread of others or accepting charity of any kind, Bjartur must have stony resolution as unforgiving as the natural environment. In the best of years the heath barely supports enough sheep to feed a family; during bad years Bjartur loses two wives and several children to starvation and disease. Bjartur represents all poor people who dream of standing on their own land and controlling their own fortunes, and his fate—he eventually loses Summerhouses after decades of struggle—reveals the brittleness of that dream.


*Iceland. North Atlantic island nation, whose countryside contains natural features that are both beautiful and terrifying—desert, heath, hot springs, freezing rivers, volcanic vents—all of it snowbound much of the year. On the northern part of Iceland, Bjartur and his family respond to the conditions variously. Bjartur himself finds nature a foe to tame with his strength and steadfastness. The summer pastures and native creatures imbue his youngest son, Nonni, with peace and contentment and inspire him to become a singer. The beauty of spring, especially its fragile wildflowers, reflects the innocent eroticism of Bjartur’s daughter, Asta Sollilja.

To most others in the area, however, the north is either a place of social exile, a backwater retaining relicts of medieval pastoral culture, as it is to the regional minister, the Reverend Godmundur, or it is a base from which to acquire larger wealth and status in greater Iceland, as it is for Bailiff Jon of Utirauthsmyri.


Rauthsmyri (roths-meer-ee). Small...

(The entire section contains 1207 words.)

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Critical Essays