Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
The structure of the narrative comprises three parts: the breakdown of the king’s coach caused in part by the poor country roads, the king’s speech to the Sunday worshipers in which he tells a lie, and the king’s reception of the pastor’s narrative of the silver and its lesson. Employing a third-person point of view moving from the king to the pastor, the narrative progresses from description of the king’s accident, over which he has no control, to his enforced listening to the parson’s narrative of the accidental finding of the mountain and the subsequent ordeal of the people. This progression suggests the influence of inscrutable fate, of a providential force that guides human destiny.
The two principal protagonists dramatize the disparity and conflict between the peasantry and the monarchy. They conform to the conventional view that attributes taciturn cunning and prudential calculation to the oppressed peasantry, and paternalistic if arbitrary nobility to the king. Here, however, such feudal obligation is amiss: The peasants never expect a visit from the king. The king’s remark to the parson’s disclosure of the people’s plight captures the king’s indifference: “’Human beings here would certainly be no better than others if this world’s temptations came closer to them,’” said the parson. “’But there’s no fear of anything of the sort happening,’ said the King with a shrug.”
The narrator’s characterization of the pastor is a subtle embodiment of the fundamental moral problem of how an oppressed class can make its voice heard. The whole point of the story-within-a-story framework, which contains the people’s answer to the king’s appeal, becomes clear: Fiction, the imagination that imbues the storyteller with a magical power, enables him to project the exemplary role of the pastor whose mind and actions coalesce in a way that condemns the king’s duplicity. That framework traps the king in the tangle of suspense, even though at the end the king redeems himself by generously acknowledging the intrinsic worth of his dominated subjects.
Selma Lagerlöf concentrates on delineating a few gestures and remarks loaded with meaning, relying on actions that imply considered moral thought and judgment. The parson’s story suggests that a selfless will can prevent fate and social norms from destroying humans; it delivers a whole philosophy, a utopian vision of community, exceeding the utilitarian demand of the king. By incorporating the parson’s sacrifice into the routine event of a king’s unexpected stopover, Lagerlöf suggests that an unjust society can be saved and renewed by mobilizing the spiritual strength and shrewdness of the peasantry.
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