Kalevala Topics for Further Study
by Elias Lonnrot

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Topics for Further Study

(Epics for Students)

Various political factions have re-interpreted the Kalevala to suit their own ideological purposes. What elements of the Kalevala lend themselves to a political interpretation? How could both the political left and right use the same work of literature as a rallying point? Can the Finnish political parties' use of the Kalevala be compared to the Nazi propagandists' use of Nibelungenlied mythology during the 1930s and 40s? Do you know of analogous situations in other countries, where a work of imaginative literature has been pressed into the service of ideology? Is this an appropriate use of literature?

The Kalevala was a source of ethnic pride for the Finns who were struggling for national independence and recognition. Later generations of Finns, however, used the Kalevala to advance the aggressive, militaristic cause of "Greater Finland." Using examples from current world events, assess the benefits and the dangers of ethnic pride. You might consider the former Soviet republics, the Middle East, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, Serbia and Croatia, or Bosnia and Herzogovina. Is there a difference between ethnic pride and tribalism?

Some critics have argued that the Kalevala is anti-feminist. Do you agree, or would you challenge this assessment? Support your argument with examples from the text.

Lonnrot thought Finland's national soul lay with the oral traditions of the rural people, and he drew the material for the Finnish epic from these sources. A shared identity or myth is considered an important element in forming a sense of national pride and cohesion. There is no national epic of the United States, but North Americans do share some myths about their origins. If an American folklorist wanted to compile an American national epic, what elements might it draw from? Consider the many shared national myths about the Pilgrim settlers and the Westward expansion, for example. Would these be necessary elements in a national epic of the United States? What other elements would be necessary?

The book of poetry Leaves of Grass by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) has been interpreted as an attempt or first step toward an American epic. Can you find aspects of Whitman's work that seem to support or to disprove this idea?

(The entire section is 556 words.)