Places: Pelle the Conqueror

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Pelle erobreren, 1906-1910 (English translation, 1913-1916)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Bornholm

*Bornholm. Pelle the ConquerorDanish island to which the young Swedish boy Pelle Karlsson is taken by his father to escape a life of abject poverty in Sweden after his mother dies. Pelle’s father, Lasse, expects Bornholm, a place of fishermen, farmers, sailors, and shopkeepers, to be a cornucopia of opportunity. Instead he finds a new life of desperation in a rural farm.

Stone Farm

Stone Farm. One of the largest farms on Bornholm, where Lasse is tricked into working for poverty wages and bad food. There Lasse and Pelle spend six years working in fetid cow stables shoveling manure and tending the cattle. Often working in freezing conditions, they start their work at 4:00 a.m. Deceived by scoundrels on the farm, Pelle comes to understand that many people lie and learns to read their eyes instead of listening to their words.

The Koller family, who own the farm, live in a high white house referred to as the Palace and grow wealthy through poor treatment of their workers and by taking advantage of the misfortunes of neighboring farmers. Their debauchery is the talk of the town, but they are not measured by the same standards used for common people. Pelle gets a bare education at the farm’s school, taught by the mediocre Mr. Niels, and learns only that the real lessons of life are to be learned outside. After much hardship on Stone Farm, Pelle sets off with a sack on his back to find opportunity in the city.

Jeppe’s shop

Jeppe’s shop. Shoemaker’s shop in which Pelle finds work as an apprentice. The shop is stuffy, dreary, smelly, and cramped, and no ray of sunlight ever enters it. After Pelle completes five of the six years needed to become a journeyman shoemaker, Jeppe dies, and his apprentices are turned out into the street.

Heath Farm

Heath Farm. Run-down farm on seventy rocky acres in the wilderness that Pelle’s father buys with his savings and borrowings. Pelle joins him for a short time in near-starvation winter conditions but eventually refuses to be bound to the soil and returns to the city to be a common laborer. Although Lasse improves the farm, he eventually goes bankrupt and loses it.


*Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark to which Pelle goes, seeking his fortune. He soon finds the city to be merely another battlefield for survival. There, he works as a journeyman shoemaker, employed by exploitative bosses in Meyer’s Shoe Warehouse.


Ark. Collection of dilapidated working-class dwellings, located in Copenhagen’s Kristianshavn district, where life is like a beehive. In spite of the desperate conditions, the residents generally take care of each other in the Ark. Because Pelle embraces trade unionism and can give moving speeches, he soon becomes president of the Shoemakers’ Union and a hero to many of the Ark’s inhabitants. Conditions worsen in the Ark as a freezing winter and an economic depression set in. The collection of workers’ shanties finally burns down under mysterious conditions, shortly after Pelle leads his union to a victorious conclusion of a strike against employers such as Meyers. Yet Pelle’s reward is an arrest on “trumped-up” charges and long-term imprisonment.

BibliographyIngwersen, Faith, and Niels Ingwersen. Quests for a Promised Land: The Works of Martin Andersen Nexø. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. The primary reference on Nexø and his works. Discusses Pelle the Conqueror as a realistic work with a mythical dimension that tells an optimistic tale of a worker who is also a mythical liberator. Discusses the political, heroic, and ambiguous facets of the novel.Ingwersen, Niels. “The Rural Rebellion.” In A History of Danish Literature, edited by Sven H. Rossel. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. A brief article showing the novel’s symbolism and stark realism and describing it as a socialistic Bildungsroman.Johanson, Joel M. “Pelle, the Conqueror: An Epic of Labor.” The Sewanee Review Quarterly 27 (April, 1919): 218-226. Describes the novel as a true epic of labor, in which the worker emerges as the self-sufficient hero. Argues that the work anticipates the positive effects of unionism when Pelle makes his own “promised land” at home.Moritzen, Julius. “Martin Andersen Nexø.” In Literary Stars on the Scandinavian Firmament. Girard, Kans.: Haldeman-Julius, 1923. A brief introduction to Nexø’s work showing the autobiographical aspects of Pelle the Conqueror. Credits Nexø’s novels with having brought about the improvement of workers’ lives in Denmark.Slochower, Harry. “Socialist Humanism: Martin Andersen Nexø’s Pelle the Conqueror.” In Three Ways of Modern Man. 1937. Reprint. New York: Kraus Reprint, 1969. An excellent discussion of Pelle the Conqueror as the classic proletarian novel. Shows how the major characters and four parts reflect all facets of the rise of the workers’ movement.
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