Places: Peder Victorious

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Peder Seier, 1928 (English translation, 1929)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Regional

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Dakota Territory

*Dakota Peder VictoriousTerritory. During the 1880’s–the period during which the novel opens–Dakota Territory flourished. The grasshopper plagues had ended, and the land again produced bumper crops. Attracted by prosperity, new settlers swarmed in, with the steady westward expansion of the railroads speeding their access. Heading westward from Chicago and St. Paul, railroads linked the Dakotas with markets on both coasts, increasing the wealth of the region. The population of the territory expanded so fast that the territory’s growth set off debates in the mid-1880’s, dramatically presented in the second section of Peder Victorious, over whether to divide the territory into two states. On November 2, 1889, shortly before Peder’s sixteenth birthday, North Dakota and South Dakota were admitted to the Union together.

Spring Creek

Spring Creek. Town in South Dakota, situated near the state’s border with Minnesota. As Giants in the Earth ended, a railroad neared Spring Creek on its way to Sioux Falls; O. E. Rölvaag never states whether the railroad builds a station at his fictional settlement; however, Spring Creek clearly shares the prosperity and population growth of the 1880’s. Frame houses replace sod huts, farmers build elaborate barns, and newcomers settle all the available land. The entire action of Peder Victorious takes place in Spring Creek, especially in its churches and schools.

The town’s two major ethnic groups are Norwegians, living mostly on the east side of the creek, and the Irish, dominating the west side. Each group has its own churches, and the two public schools of the village reflect the population of the area they serve.

Churches

Churches. Spring Creek has several Christian denominations. Its original Lutheran congregation, St. Luke’s Norwegian Evangelical Church, meets in the Tallaksen schoolhouse while its members gradually raise money for their own building. A dissident group of Norwegians, more literal in their reading of the Bible, founds the Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Beret shifts from one Norwegian church to the other, hoping that membership in one of these churches will slow her son Peder’s abandonment of Norwegian language and customs. However, she finds neither church satisfactory because both use English to attract the younger generation.

Where the town’s Roman Catholics meet–or whether they even have their own meetinghouse–is never mentioned in the novel. That a parish church has existed there, however, is clear, as the novel mentions a priest who strongly denounces interfaith marriages.

Schools

Schools. Two public schools serve as political and cultural centers for the village. Tallaksen School, on the east side of Spring Creek, teaches a standard English language curriculum to its predominantly Norwegian students. The Irish children in Murphy School, on the west side, already speak English, but the schoolteacher who runs the school is determined to Americanize her charges further by teaching them to revere the heroes of American history. She also presides over a community meeting to debate the future of Dakota Territory. Her pupils open the session by reading the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address to the largely immigrant audience. Dissenters from the decision of the first meeting later assemble at the Tallaksen schoolhouse.

Beret regrets the fact that district lines put her home within Murphy School territory. She distrusts the school-mistress’s policy of rigorous Americanization and objects to Peder’s being forced to associate with Irish children. Beret has Peder transferred to Tallaksen School, where Norwegian children will surround him, but that school’s English-language curriculum also reinforces the process of cultural assimilation. Peder continues to participate in extracurricular activities at Murphy School that are open to the entire settlement and at the novel’s conclusion becomes engaged to an Irish American girl.

BibliographyHaugen, Einar. Ole Edvart Rölvaag. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A detailed discussion of all Rölvaag’s works from a Norwegian American perspective. Haugen, a former student of Rölvaag, is an expert on Norwegian American dialects, and he has studied Rölvaag’s writing in the original Norwegian as well as the English translations.Moseley, Ann. Ole Edvart Rölvaag. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University, 1987. A brief, general introduction to Rölvaag’s life and writings. Focuses on the importance of Rölvaag’s work to the general student of American literature. Includes a useful bibliography.Paulson, Kristoffer F. “Rölvaag as Prophet: The Tragedy of Americanization.” In Ole Rölvaag: Artist and Cultural Leader, edited by Gerald Thorson. Northfield, Minn.: St. Olaf College Press, 1975. Discusses the physical and spiritual dangers that Rölvaag saw confronting immigrants.Reigstad, Paul. Rölvaag: His Life and Art. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972. An extensive discussion of Rölvaag’s novels. Emphasizes the artistic merits of Rölvaag’s work, rather than the social history aspects.Simonson, Harold P. Prairies Within: The Tragic Trilogy of Ole Rölvaag. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987. Emphasizes Beret’s role in all three novels of Rölvaag’s trilogy of the Holm family. Argues that Beret is Rölvaag’s most important character and the one who best represents his views.
Categories: Places