(Essentials of European Literature)

Benjamin was an old man who had already buried two wives. His overtures to Maja, the servant girl, were matter-of-fact, but somehow Maja saw in this tobacco-dribbling tyrant an opportunity for improvement. She had borne one child out of wedlock, and she longed for position. When they were married, the parson was at some pains to refer to Maja as a maidservant.

As she awaited Jussi’s birth, she thought that now she might be like other farm wives. Benjamin drank far too much and quarreled incessantly. The night her labor started, he went to drink with Ollila, a neighbor. Maja was left with only Lovisa, the cupper woman, to look after her. Lovisa was sharp-tongued but competent; before Maja came to the farm as mistress, she herself had enjoyed Benjamin’s favors. In fact, when Benjamin stumbled home long after his son was born, he called for Lovisa.

While Jussi was little, he stayed in his cradle and fretted at the lice. As he grew older, he sometimes drank coffee. He learned at an early age to avoid his father, who for fun would poke plug tobacco into his protesting mouth. He played with poorer children on top of Pig Hill and was initiated into many mysteries. He looked forward to his confirmation, for he believed it was the dividing line between childhood and man’s estate.

A period of drought seriously impaired the family fortunes. Maja was no longer afraid of Benjamin. Too old and weak to beat her, he continued to drink with Ollila and to borrow money from him. When things got too bad, he took his deeds to Ollila and returned bearing food and money. The sheriff came to take possession of Benjamin’s farm the night the old man died. Maja and Jussi set out for her brother’s farm on foot. Maja left Jussi at Tuorila with her reluctant brother while she looked for work; she, too, died soon afterward.

While he lived with his uncle, Jussi was confused. For one thing, the house was so big and clean, and he was neither servant nor family. Although he received many orders, he understood few of them. He would have liked to run errands for his aunt, but he could never find things. He finally became a herdsman, a job he could do fairly well.

After his first confirmation Jussi was disappointed because people still treated him like a child. Little by little, however, his uncle gave him more responsibility. One fall evening he was sent to round up crofters for the harvest. Luckily, he found most of them at a harvest celebration. At the merriment Jussi was treated like everyone else: He was given ale to drink, and he danced with a boy his age. Later he was in a group that escorted Manda, a farm girl, back to Tuorila. The men made so much noise trying to follow Manda up to her loft that they awoke Jussi’s uncle. The master came with a stick and beat the revelers.

Tuorila prospered, and the family decided to invite the gentry to a social gathering. Jussi had...

(The entire section is 1194 words.)