Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It is clear that the salient thematic issue involves the blindness of the king (monarchical authority) to the plight of his subjects; the injustice of a hierarchical, feudal system based on private ownership of property (land, in particular) that fosters violent competition; and the priority of the spiritual good of the community over the claims of the wealth-seeking individual. On the surface, it is easy to reduce such a complex web of thematic motifs to the simplistic idea that money, or speculation of property, corrupts; that wealth is the root of all evil. If one reflects further, however, one can see that it is on the problematic relation between the king and the parson, who represents the peasantry or common people, that the text focuses. Although the prospect of owning the silver ruins the people, the parson believes that it can do good in the service of the country.

When the king inquires if the pastor is ready to be responsible for surrendering that wealth to the Fatherland no matter what happens to the parishioners, he says that he is, and that the fate of his flock “can rest in God’s hand.” This demonstrates the pastor’s independence of mind, his strong faith, and his loyalty to the welfare of the nation. He is therefore selfless both as peasant and as pastor in relation to a larger good to which, he believes, even the king should submit. This value the king confirms when he decides to preserve the integrity of the peasants: “Inasmuch as you have labored and starved a lifetime to make this people such as you would have it, you may keep it as it is.”

Connected with this paternalistic care for the spiritual health of the peasants is the king’s conservative attitude that these subjects should not disturb the status quo or rebel against the present social arrangement. The silver mine betokens disruption and subversion of the existing class system. The fratricide committed by Olaf Svard (recounted in the parson’s story told to the king) and the promise Svard exacts from the parson before he is hanged (that nothing of the mine be given to his children) proves this unsettling effect of the...

(The entire section is 876 words.)