Pelle the Conqueror resembles successful radical and socialist literature in being basically autobiographical. Like Martin Andersen Nexø, who was born in one of the poorest slums of Copenhagen, Denmark, the central character of Pelle the Conqueror is a member of the working class. While he follows his own particular destiny, Pelle also represents choices for the working-class movement as a whole, and there can be no doubt that, beyond telling an interesting story, Nexø intended his book to help transform the life of working people. Lasse, Pelle, Kalle, and Erik are all meant to serve as social types and as indicators of working-class responses.
The background of Pelle the Conqueror is the struggle between workers and employers during the rise of the labor movement in Denmark in the last half of the nineteenth century. At no time, however, does social criticism overwhelm the narrative. The book indeed exposes the struggles of working people, but the maturing of a young man from direst poverty is always foremost. The author’s love for common people and their daily concerns is perhaps best illustrated in the insight with which Nexø depicts small incidents of life. The many digressions from the main story to customs and experiences of other characters in whom Nexø was interested are anything but boring because of the sympathy and warmheartedness with which they are presented.
Lasse, Pelle’s father, is already an...
(The entire section is 518 words.)