Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Peasants by Wladislaw Stanis Rejment is a realist novel centering on the lives and living conditions of peasants in a small village in Poland. Written in the first decade of the twentieth century, he book is divided into four parts, each representing one of the seasons of the year. Rejment, having grown up in a small Polish village, knew the intimate details of peasants' lives very well and wanted to shed light on their plight in a straightforward, honest way that hadn't been done before.
The story begins in autumn with the harvest drawing near. Matthias, an older widow, is accused of having an affair with a servant, but his case is dismissed from court, and he begins a relationship with another woman, Yagna, who has a good inheritance coming to her. Matthias's son also harbors feelings for Yagna, in spite of being married to Hanka. Yagna and his family are banished after fighting with Matthias over the impending marriage.
Matthias and Yagna marry in an exuberant ceremony. One of the servants is accidentally shot and dies from loss of blood after amputating his own leg.
In the harsh winter, the peasants are all struggling to survive. A new suitor arrives and claims to have slept with Yagna; Antek, Matthias's son who still harbors feelings for Yagna, breaks the man's ribs. Yagna reveals she is pregnant. Yagna and Antek come closer together as Antek ignores his wife and shirks his responsibilities more and more, drinking heavily and losing his job. Matthias catches his son with his wife, and they fight as Matthias begins to scorn Yagna and treat her like a servant. Matthias and Antek accidentally start a fire that nearly destroys the village during their brawl.
Spring passes by with Antek in prison and his wife giving birth. Yagna is shunned by most in the town for her deeds, including Matthew—the other man who had a relationship with her. Matthias falls suddenly ill and dies in his fields without warning. Finally, Antek is released from prison.
In summer, the final section, the village is broken, and the harvest is poor. Antek returns home and, in spite of his feelings, ignores Yagna, who is eventually sent away after having another relationship. Germans begin to take over some of their land, and the peasants live in fear that they won't have enough food or that if they anger the Germans, they will be sent to Siberia. Such is the desolate life of the peasants.