Sorrow-Acre Analysis
by Isak Dinesen

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Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like the story’s meaning, the form of “Sorrow-Acre” reveals its folktale origins but takes on the complexity of modern fiction. The story is divided into four parts. The opening section is a leisurely description of the Danish landscape and an exposition of all the elements of this medieval world. In the second part, Adam and his uncle meet and begin their debate. Part 3 is a romantic reprieve, a description of the lovely young mistress of the manor as she awakens alone and observes the fertility of this spring morning. The main action of the story takes place in the last part, where the two men argue, are reconciled, and then part, and where Anne-Marie’s tragedy is played out.

If the pace of the story is almost stately, the descriptions are rich and passionate. Dinesen lingers over these figures in her landscape and, like some writing god herself, paints all the characters (including the setting) with equal fullness. The shift in the reader’s loyalty, from an identification with Adam at the beginning to a recognition of the rightness of the lord’s justice at the end, is carried off without calling attention to itself; even Dinesen’s religious symbolism seems natural and unobtrusive in the unified fabric of her story.

Style, in short, helps to enhance the power and poignancy of “Sorrow-Acre.” By the end of the story, most readers will agree with Adam: “For to die for the one you loved was an effort too sweet for words.” Dinesen’s words are exactly what make this story one of her most beautiful, as most critics agree—and as this passage on the last page amply illustrates:At the sound of his voice she lifted her face to him. A faint, bland shadow of surprise ran over it, but still she gave no sign of having heard what he said, so that the people round them began to wonder if the exhaustion had turned her deaf. But after a moment she slowly and waveringly raised her hand, fumbling in the air as she aimed at his face, and with her fingers touched his cheek. The cheek was wet with tears, so that at the contact her fingertips lightly stuck to it, and she seemed unable to overcome the infinitely slight resistance, or to withdraw her hand. For a minute the two looked each other in the face. Then, softly and lingeringly, like a sheaf of corn that falls to the ground, she sank forward onto the boy’s shoulder, and he closed his arms round her.

Like few other writers, Dinesen captures a moment of human tragedy and beauty in words.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

In order to fully understand the critique of Dinesen's "Sorrow-Acre,'' one must first examine three very different historical moments and places: late eighteenth-century Europe, early twentieth-century Kenya, and mid twentieth-century Denmark.

Eighteenth-Century Europe
The first, most obvious point of inquiry is the late eighteenth-century during which the story's action takes place. The story's physical setting is Denmark, but in light of Adam's preoccupation with the intellectual currents sweeping England, France, and the newly independent United States, it is clearly important to consider what is happening in these places as well. Although changes during this period are many, the most significant are that the French Revolution and the American War of Independence have ushered in a new age of individual rights. The once clear divisions between the landed nobility and the landless peasantry now became increasingly complicated. One complicating factor is the emergence of a "middle" class—a consequence of the fledgling Industrial Revolution. Another is the contradiction between "the divine right of kings'' and the "inalienable rights of men." It is important, however, to keep in mind that these new, liberal ideas are not embraced by the landed aristocracy in England, France, or anywhere else; they are a threat to the very idea of traditional aristocratic rights. In Denmark, to this point, the eighteenth century has seen a gradual, but nonetheless substantial, erosion in the rights of the...

(The entire section is 1,983 words.)