The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Because Grove is strongly theme-oriented, his characters tend to function more as types than as individuals. At its best, a type can rise to the level of individualization; at its worst, it descends to stereotype.

Niels Lindstedt comes close to engaging the reader’s sympathetic identification, mainly because Grove endeavors to present him as an archetype. Niels has the incorruptible dream of Everyman, from Homer’s Odysseus to Steinbeck’s Lennie and Fitzgerald’s Gatsby: The dream of a place called Home where one is anchored, secure, content, at peace, and loved.

All the main characters are connected to that dream to a greater or lesser degree. To Niels, Ellen is the embodiment of his vision and thus functions as symbol of his ideal. Her very aloofness attracts him initially and intensifies his pursuit of the “impossible dream.” Yet Ellen, though remaining the ideal, explodes the dream as impossible. Grove uses Clara Vogel as Ellen’s opposite: not the embodiment but the destroyer of the dream. She too functions as symbol and remains mostly on the level of the stereotypical wanton who needs sex to fill an emotional void. In contrast to Ellen’s unadorned but genuine femininity and humanity, Clara’s lavish makeup and aggressive carnality serve death in Grove’s design, for underneath her mask is the face of a corpse. That is what she soon becomes, fit punishment for destroying the dream. Though she is a pathetic figure, her use...

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Niels Lindstedt

Niels Lindstedt, a pioneer farmer from Sweden. Niels likes to conceive a plan and then carry it out. Remembering his mother’s poverty, he makes his dreams come true by clearing a homestead near Minor and Balfour, in the marsh area of Manitoba. His first sight of Ellen inspires his visions of a wife and children in a comfortable home. He makes a plan to be ready to have Ellen accept his proposal of marriage. This vision motivates Niels, who is ever ready to help neighbors, a steady worker even in winter, and a fair employer who pays his help well. When Ellen makes it clear that she does not want to be married, he leaves and works even harder, even though he is despondent. His lapse with Mrs. Vogel causes him, for the rest of his life, to be plagued by a strong sense of sin because he gave way to his passion. Once out of prison, he goes to Ellen to say that he would accept being a brother to her but is quietly overjoyed with her outpouring that she would attempt to be a wife. Both are very happy, for now they share the same vision.

Ellen Amundsen

Ellen Amundsen, the daughter of a neighboring pioneer farmer. Ellen actively works like a man for her father, but she had observed her mother lifting and working too hard, efforts that brought on many miscarriages. Others see Ellen as unusual because after her father’s death she continues to farm. She even issues neighbors permits to take off hay and, alongside men, plows a fire break. Although always correct and conservative in her behavior, Ellen loves Niels. She expresses a freer spirit in a pastoral romantic scene: They go through the woods and fields to share a vista from the top of a haystack, then huddle together in a hollowed-out niche during a downpour. She refuses Niels’s...

(The entire section is 733 words.)

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In Niels Lindstedt, Frederick Philip Grove paints a fine portrait of a pioneer farmer. He has left the poverty of his parents’ farm in Sweden to make his way and his fortune in the new land. The fertile soil on the edge of the great marsh provides him with the opportunity to prosper, and his dream of success gives him the power to bring the material part of the dream to reality. His ignorance and puritanical sexual repression, however, make it impossible for him to understand Ellen’s plight or to woo her in a way that would overcome her fear of sexuality. His sensitivity and willingness to educate himself finally bring him to a realization of his shortcomings, and he is ready to face Ellen again.

Ellen is a convincing pioneer woman. Tough and self-sufficient, yet willing to learn, she acknowledges her own part in Niels’s tragedy and is able to overcome her own sexual fears to face the future with him.

The portrait of Clara Vogel, “the bird of passage,” as Grove calls her, is not as successful, as she is too much the painted woman of legend. Yet Grove is not unsympathetic to her. She, too, has justification for what she does, both in marrying Niels and then in making his life a hell. She offers to leave Niels and give him a divorce after he finds out what she is. Instead of seizing this way out of an impossible situation, however, Niels practically makes her a prisoner on the farm, seemingly as a punishment for her sins. This drives her to the excesses which provoke Niels into killing her.

The farmhand, Bobby, grows up on the squalid farm that the Lunds, his idle stepfather and prodigal stepmother, try to run. For Bobby, Niels is the model of industry and success on which he models his own life. He repays his debt to Niels by improving the farm during his absence in prison, and not taking a penny of profit beyond subsistence for his young wife and growing family. He is amply rewarded by Niels on his return from prison.