Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Much critical attention has quite rightly been focused in recent years on the epic and heroic qualities of Roelvaag's Giants in the Earth. However, Giants in the Earth is not all epic--partly because Roelvaag perceives the settling of the Plains by Scandinavian immigrants with mixed feelings: on the one hand, wishing to rekindle in them a sense of their serious destiny in the New World; on the other, longing for a return to the lost values of his own Norwegian youth. Hence, far from glorifying epic struggle or extolling heroic virtues, Roelvaag rather emphasizes pastoral virtues somewhat at variance with the values of the dominant capitalistic American culture. He recreates in Giants in the Earth a cohesive, pre-technological community nearly free of the vice of materialism in which traditional Norwegian peasant values flourish. Even within clearly epic episodes, Roelvaag injects "pastoral interludes." But beyond that, he follows faithfully the cycle of birth and death, planting and harvest of a community closely tied to nature, and the core of the story--Beret's living death and re-awakening--also fits within the pattern of pastoral myth. Roelvaag accomplishes this interweaving of pastoral with epic through his use of the dialectic between Beret and Per Hanss, through his use of the traditional pastoral leitmotif of milk, and through a subtle undercutting of potentially violent or tragic scens with humor. This study of the pastoral within Giants in the Earth is an attempt to set this immigrant novel in a new perspective.