“Sorrow-Acre” is based on a Danish folktale, and, like that older, didactic form, it carries overt lessons. Isak Dinesen has deepened the story’s mystery and thereby made its meaning more ambiguous.
At the center of “Sorrow-Acre” is a debate, both real and dramatic, between two ways of life, the past and the present. The old lord is like a god in this aristocratic world, while Adam represents a newer, more liberal view and “the great new ideas of the age: of nature, of the right and freedom of man, of justice and beauty.” Adam’s view, surprisingly, does not prevail, and it is the uncle who is left at the end watching the close of this tragedy. Adam actually gains his reconciliation with the land by accepting his uncle’s sense of justice and order. Eventually, the reader suspects, he may inherit this manor; for now, the old lord is still firmly in control. The reader’s sympathy has similarly shifted from an easy identification with the modern ideas of Adam to a recognition of the essential harmony and unity of this almost medieval world.
However, nothing in Dinesen’s work is ever so simple. A series of overlapping parallels deepens the mystery and tragedy of the story. Anne-Marie is toiling to save her son, which is exactly what the old lord was unable to do for his own. Ironically, Goske Piil was his son’s only playmate; now he is being accused of setting the fire by a wheelwright who suspects him “with his young...
(The entire section is 494 words.)