Settlers of the Marsh is the story of a young Swedish immigrant who becomes a successful farmer in the Canadian West, is rejected by the woman of his dreams, and unwittingly marries the nearby town’s prostitute. The novel’s pattern includes five main motifs: anticipation and preparation, rejection, degeneration, expiation, and regeneration.
Niels comes to the New World on a quest: He will work hard to build a farm that will personify his dream, namely a piece of land, a house of his own with a wife to love, and children all around. For some time, he does not know who that woman will be, until he comes to know Ellen Amundsen. His love for her and for his dream energizes him to work harder than anyone to cultivate his land and to build the biggest and worthiest house in the region, but Ellen fails to respond with a show of romantic interest. It seems that Niels has nourished an impossible dream. He throws himself into his labor with even more intensity, but now as an escape. His life is regulated only by the seasons.
Gradually, however, Ellen’s aloofness softens, and a friendship of sorts develops between them. Niels, of course, needs and hopes for more. One fateful day, she tells Niels the painful reason why the relationship can never go beyond friendship. Ellen has made a vow to her dying mother that “no man was ever to have power over me.” She did so in response to her mother’s confession that her husband had treated her like an animal. He had forced her to leave small children behind in Sweden, had forced himself on her even when she was sick, had blamed her when she became pregnant, and had manipulated her to find ways of miscarrying. The third miscarriage also ended the mother’s own wretched life. The abuse had...
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