Nobel Prize winner Henrik Pontoppidan attempts in The Promised Land to illustrate the conflicts that overtake human beings when they try to submerge their instincts to follow their intellectual beliefs. Emanuel Hansted is a complicated, tormented individual, divided between theory and instinct, duty and passion. He is not entirely sympathetic, but he is understandable and pitiable. A dreamer, he tries unsuccessfully to gain the confidence of the peasants but, despite his efforts to make himself one with the soil and the peasant life, his urban background ultimately betrays his ambitions.
Pontoppidan’s novel reflects the class distinctions and the division between town and country folk in nineteenth century Denmark, at a time when the peasants were struggling for a greater voice in the affairs of that country. As in the case of so many European novels dealing with social problems, the characterization, the plot, and the events that take place are secondary to the social meaning and the tone of the work. As a result, the characters are types rather than individuals, and in a plot subordinate to theme the events depicted are not skillfully tied together. Quite obviously these items were relatively unimportant to the author; he was intent on creating a picture of the struggle between the People’s Party and the Conservatives, and the effects of that struggle on individuals. Sympathetic to the less favored group, Pontoppidan, like so many problem novelists, tells only one side of the story; one result is that his upper-class...
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