Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A major theme in all Strindberg’s novels is the quest for identity. In The Natives of Hemso, however, the quest is not for self-knowledge but for experience of every sort of human activity. In Strindberg’s other novels, the major character is engaged in psychological introspection or anguishing self-analysis, but here Carlsson lives very much on the surface. He cavalierly, but not ruthlessly, manipulates people to turn a profit for himself. The person who gains the most identity, finally, is Gusten, who simply grows up.

In addition, the novel explores the implications of an interloper integrating with and usurping land and possessions which are not his by birth. By turns, the Hemso natives are receptive, puzzled, jealous, hostile, and grateful to Carlsson for his intrusion. His sociability and good humor draw them in, and, while they never really embrace him as one of their own, they are charmed by and profit from him. The widow, however, admonishes Gusten on her deathbed to marry one of his own kind.

At one time or another, each of the major characters experiences isolation, setting himself apart from or against the main group, which results in some disaster. Carlsson is the first to do this, claiming, in his pride, the attic room, and once there, being overcome with hallucinations. Gusten’s reluctance to attend the wedding haunts him at his mother’s deathbed. Pastor Nordstrom’s drinking bouts lead to his being physically ejected from the group by Carlsson. Mrs. Carlsson fans her jealousy by pursuing Carlsson on his amorous trysts.

The large theme of life and death emerges against a more specific backdrop of seasonal rise and fall over the three-year span of action. There are alternating periods of good fortune and defeat for the Hemso community and, specifically, for the main character. Spring brings promise, as Carlsson arrives in April. Summer brings fruition, with the wedding in...

(The entire section is 791 words.)