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Last Updated on July 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

Introduction

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.

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Plot Summary

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.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1170

It is autumn, and the peasants of Lipka village are hurrying to finish the harvest before winter. In Matthias Boryna’s barnyard, the villagers gather to see a cow that had been chased from manor lands and is now dying of colic. Hanka, Matthias’s daughter-in-law, takes the loss most to heart when old Kuba, the stableman, says that he can do nothing for the stricken cow.

That night, Matthias, charged with having fathered a servant girl’s child, goes to visit the voyt, the headman of the village, to ask about his trial. The voyt, after assuring Matthias that he will get off easily in court, flatters Matthias and tells him he should marry again, now that his second wife is dead. Matthias pretends he is too old, but he is hopeful of marrying Yagna, the daughter of Dominikova. Yagna will some day inherit three acres of land. The next morning, the case against Matthias is dismissed. After the trial, Matthias meets Dominikova and tries to sound her out on her plans for her daughter.

On the day of the autumn sale, Matthias sells some hogs, and Hanka her geese. Old Matthias, pleased when Yagna accepts some bright ribbons, asks her hand in marriage. He does not know that his son, Antek, Hanka’s husband, is secretly in love with Yagna. When Matthias settles six acres upon Yagna in return for the three she brought with her marriage portion, Antek and his father fight, and Matthias orders his son off the farm. Antek and Hanka move with their children into the miserable cabin of Hanka’s father.

The wedding of Matthias and Yagna is a hilarious affair. In the middle of the merriment, Kuba, poaching on manor lands, is shot in the leg by a gamekeeper. Fearing the hospital, he cuts off his own leg and dies from loss of blood.

Winter comes swiftly, and wolves lurk near the peasants’ stock barns. That winter, Hanka and Antek have to sell their cow so they can get food. Antek takes work with men building a new sawmill. Matthew, the foreman, is his enemy, for Matthew also loves Yagna. One day, Antek overhears Matthew bragging that he has been with Yagna in her bedroom. In a great fury, Antek strikes Matthew so hard that the carpenter breaks several ribs when he falls over the railing and into the river.

At Christmas, there is great rejoicing in Matthias’s house, for Yagna is pregnant. At the midnight mass on Christmas Eve, Yagna and Antek see each other for a moment. Antek asks her to meet him behind the haystack. That winter, the peasants of the village come to Matthias to report that a part of the forest that the peasants use for gathering wood has been sold by the manor people. Unhappily, Matthias allows himself to be dragged into the dispute. While Matthias is away, Antek goes to his father’s farm to see Yagna. Returning, Matthias nearly catches them together.

One night at the inn, Antek becomes drunk, ignores his wife, and asks Yagna to dance with him. Matthias arrives, seizes Yagna, and takes her away. On his way home, Antek finds his wife almost dead in the snow. From that time on, Matthias treats Yagna like a servant.

Antek loses his job, and Hanka is forced to go with the paupers seeking firewood in the forest. Walking home through the storm, Hanka is given a ride by Matthias. He insists that Hanka come back to his farm the next day. That night, Antek takes Yagna into the orchard. Coming upon them, Matthias lights up a straw stack to see them. Antek and the old man fight. Then Antek flees and the fire spreads, threatening the whole village. Yagna flees to her family. Everyone avoids Antek and refuses to speak to him.

At last, Matthias takes Yagna back, but only as a hired servant. Hanka is with him much of the time. When Yagna begins to see Antek again, the old man takes no notice.

Word comes that the squire is cutting timber on land the peasants claim. The next morning, a fight takes place in the forest as the villagers try to protect their trees. Antek thinks he might kill his own father in the confusion, but when he sees Matthias injured, he kills the woodcutter who wounded his father. Antek walks alongside as Matthias is carried home.

When spring comes, many of the villagers, Antek among them, are in jail after the fight in the forest. Fields go unplowed. Old Matthias lays insensible. Yagna has now begun to consort with the voyt. It seems as if the devil himself has possessed the village. Easter is a sad season, because the men are still in prison. Word goes around that the squire, who has been ordered to stop the sale of his land, is in desperate straits for money and vowing revenge upon the peasants. Shortly after Easter, Hanka gives birth to a boy, who is named Roch. Although gifts are given out in Antek’s absence, the christening does not seem complete.

At last, the peasants are set free. Their homecoming is a happy occasion in every cabin but that of Matthias, for Antek has not been released. Yagna is also unhappy. Even Matthew, the carpenter who had once loved her, now ignores her for the younger Teresa. One night, Matthias arises from his stupor. For hours, he wanders the fields as if about to sow his land. In the morning, he falls over and dies.

Summer brings additional woes to the peasants. There are quarrels over Matthias’s land. Some Germans arrive to occupy the squire’s land, but the peasants threaten them, and they leave. The squire makes arrangements to parcel out the land to the peasants, and some of them buy new land for homesteading.

Old Dominikova and Simon, one of her sons, have quarreled, and Simon buys his own land from the squire. Simon and his wife, Nastka, receive many gifts from the villagers who want to spite old Dominikova. When the voyt’s accounts are found to be short, the villagers blame Yagna. Antek is released from prison and returns to work on the farm. He is still attracted to Yagna, but the duties of his farm and the possibility that he still might be sent to Siberia press even harder upon him. That summer, the organist’s son, Yanek, comes home from school. In a short time, he and Yagna are seen together. At last, the peasants put Yagna on a manure cart and tell her never to return to the village.

The summer is dry and the harvest scanty. One day a wandering beggar stops at Nastka’s house. He gives her some balm for Yagna, who has taken refuge there. As the sound of the Angelus rises through the evening air, he strides away. For the food Nastka has given him, he calls down God’s blessing on her peasant home.

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Themes