Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The storyteller is Uncle David. He is indeterminately old, having immigrated from Norway many years before. All his life he has farmed; he gladly accepts the covenant that earning a livelihood from the earth is "work on work on work." Like all farmers, he knows the subtle workings of land, animals, crops, and equipment. He has a few possessions, a Bible and four books in Norwegian that he reads privately for an hour each night in the winter room. He comes to life when the moment arrives in the rhythm of the evening for him to tell tales. Often he tells the same stories because they define the nature of life and love.

His adult listeners are like him. Nels, a fellow bachelor and immigrant, is a hardworking, taciturn steward of the farm. Nels is content to sit and listen to Uncle David's stories; he is a good listener who knows when to laugh and when to slap his leg with pleasure. Mother and father keep busy as they listen, just as they always keep busy. Their lives are defined by their chores: mother cooks, cleans, and sews; father plows, repairs, and reaps. They live wisely and contentedly in the rhythm of "work on work on work," just as Uncle David and Nels do.

The young listeners are Eldon and Wayne. Eldon, two years younger and still outgrowing frail health, defers to Wayne physically. Wayne chooses the games they play and initiates their pranks. However, Eldon does not defer to Wayne in all matters; he is a tough negotiator in trading...

(The entire section is 440 words.)