Last Updated on July 23, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 373
Matthias Boryna is a prominent, relatively well-off peasant in Lipka, Poland. Age sixty, twice widowed, he remarries despite the opposition of his children, who worry about their inheritance. Yanga, his new wife, is dissatisfied with having an older husband and begins an affair with Antek, one of Matthias’s sons. Disheartened, Matthias invites Antek’s wife, Hanka, and their children to live with him. The conflicts between the peasants and landowners heat up over the timber from a forested area. During a violent episode over the wood, Matthew is wounded. During a long illness, it is Hanka rather than Yanga who cares for him until his death.
Yagna, Matthias’s wife, is a beautiful but self-centered young woman who has numerous affairs after their marriage. Matthias suffers from the humiliation of her promiscuity, including her affair with Antek. When she pursues a seminary student, the villagers turn on her and drive her out of town.
Antek Boryna, Matthias’s son, falls in love with Yagna despite her reputation. Once their affair begins, he leaves his family. He stands up for his father by killing the man who injured him but is imprisoned for the crime. While he is in jail, his father dies, so he returns as the new master of the family farm.
Hanka, Antek’s wife, raises their children alone after he leaves but is then supported by his father. She takes on administration of the farm and Matthias’s resources. After his father dies, Antek returns, and she takes him back. Her virtues, including love of the land, are clearly contrasted with Yagna’s flaws.
The Voyt, the corrupt village headman, is one of Yagna’s many lovers. He is later apprehended for stealing village funds.
Yanek, a devout young man who plans to be a priest, is an object of Yagna’s desire. He not only resists her but rejects the gossip about her reputation.
Roch is a nomadic holy man and healer. He teaches the Polish peasants to read in their own language, which earns him the Russians’ enmity.
The blacksmith, who is married to Antek’s sister, covets the family farm. He tries to take over the farm while Antek is in prison.
Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 822
Matthias Boryna (mah-TEE-yas boh-REW-nah), a well-to-do peasant, the leading man of Lipka village in Poland. Though he is sixty years old and has already outlived two wives, he is thinking of marrying again. That his grown children wish him to retire and divide his land among them makes no difference. Sorrow comes of his marriage, for he unwisely takes a wanton as his third wife. Worst of all, she takes Matthias Boryna’s married son as her lover. The old man learns to endure having such a wife, but at great cost to his peace of mind. He turns for moral support to Hanka, his son’s wife, and asks her and her children to live in his house, for he is a kindly, if headstrong, man. During a battle to protect timber claimed by the peasants from being cut by the owner of a nearby manor, Matthias is severely wounded. He lies many months in a stupor, neglected by his wife but nursed tenderly by his daughter-in-law, until he dies.
Yagna, Matthias Boryna’s young wife, the prettiest girl in Lipka village. She turns out to be a common trull, taking up with whatever man her fancy falls on at the moment. She has an affair with Antek Boryna, her stepson, who truly loves her and is intensely bitter when the girl marries his father. Concerned only for herself, Yagna is not sorry for the trouble she brings to the Boryna family. Her only feeling while her husband lies injured for many weeks is bitterness that he still lives. She goes too far at last by chasing after a young man of the village who is studying to be a priest. The indignant villagers carry her out of Lipka on a dung cart and warn her not to return. The shock of the treatment leaves her insensible for weeks.
Antek Boryna, Matthias’ grown son, a man as headstrong as his father. Sick with love for Yagna, he leaves his father’s house and becomes a common laborer, neglecting his wife and children. After he kills the forester who has injured his father, he and Matthias are reconciled. Antek, in prison for many weeks, returns to find his father dead. He becomes master of the Boryna farm, a position that strengthens him to put aside his feelings for Yagna, though she still means much to him.
Hanka, Antek Boryna’s loving wife. Deserted by her husband, she cares for herself and her children. A woman driven by the peasant’s love of the land and its ownership, she looks after the Boryna farm and wealth while her husband is in prison and her father-in-law lies ill. She loves her husband deeply and readily accepts him when he gives up his affair with Yagna.
Dominikova (doh-mih-nih-KOH-vah), Yagna’s widowed mother, a selfish, land-hungry, domineering old woman who treats her grown sons as though they were slaves and will not let them marry.
Kuba Soha, an old hired man on the Boryna farm, a veteran who had fought against the Russians. He turns poacher and is wounded by the local squire’s forester for taking game. He dies when he tries to amputate his own leg.
Yuzka, the young sister of Antek Boryna.
The Voyt, the elected headman of the village, a man who feathers his own nest and is distrusted by the people of Lipka. He is eventually caught by the government for stealing several thousand rubles of public money. He is one of Yagna’s lovers.
Yanek (YAH-nehk), the son of the village organist, an honest, religious young man who has begun his studies for the priesthood. Although Yagna Boryna openly pursues him, he cannot believe she is as bad as village gossip says she is. His family finally sends him away to protect him from the girl.
Simon, one of Dominikova’s grown sons. He rebels against his mother’s domination and manages to buy a few acres of land to till for himself and his wife.
Nastka, Simon’s young wife, whom he marries against his mother’s will.
Roch (rohk), a wandering beggar and religious man who teaches the children to read and serves the village as a physician. An honest and trustworthy man much beloved by the peasants, he is hunted out by the Russians because he teaches the Polish peasants to read in their own language and encourages them to remain patriotic Poles.
Matthew, a carpenter and millwright, one of Antek Boryna’s rivals for Yagna’s favors.
Teresa, a young peasant girl who loves Matthew.
The Blacksmith, Antek Boryna’s brother-in-law, a selfish man who would like to drive Antek off the Boryna farm and take it over on the strength of being the husband of Antek’s sister. He constantly plots against the other Borynas.
Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 236
Kridl, Manfred. A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture. Translated by Olga Sherer-Virski. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956. Claims The Peasants is universally acknowledged as “the richest and artistically the most perfect picture of peasant life in world literature.” Excellent description of Reymont’s ability to endow characters with individual traits while preserving the general impression of peasant life in Poland.
Krzyanowski, Jerzy R. Wadysaw Stanisaw Reymont. New York: Twayne, 1972. A chapter on The Peasants discusses Reymont’s interest in rural peoples. Asserts that it is inappropriate to consider the novel simply a political tract; claims the novelist is adept at portraying the psychological dimensions of his characters.
Krzyanowski, Julian. A History of Polish Literature. Translated by Doris Ronowicz. Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1972. Places The Peasants in the context of a larger tradition of Polish novels depicting the life of rural folk. Highlights the struggle between traditional values and the changes wrought by the introduction of foreign elements into the society.
Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. New York: Macmillan, 1969. Describes Reymont’s plan to write the epic of the Polish peasantry. Explains how The Peasants presents traditional Polish values through a story that has more universal significance.
Pietrkiewicz, Jerzy. Polish Prose and Verse. London: Athlone Press, 1956. Insightful comments about The Peasants, highlighting the use of the seasons as a unifying device and citing the psychological complexity Reymont achieves with both major and minor characters.
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