The story’s ‘world’ moves from
- ‘Primitive’ life to do with practical problems of living in the forest and avoiding capture
- ‘Pantheism’ where they feel emotionally part of nature
- ‘Paganism’ where they feel attacked by spirits
- ‘Religion’ when Berg tells Tord about God and Tord is guided by divine ‘justice’
Tord worships Berg as a kind of father who knows everything, whom he loves, and whom he obeys in the traditional way as his ‘lord’. Ironically the ‘education’ that Berg gives him in the end leads to his betrayal of Berg in the name of a ‘justice’ we don’t quite admire.
Berg too lives in terms of rank, and expects Tord’s obedience and respect.
He despises him because of his ‘rank’ as a thief.
Tord in fact is not a thief but allowed himself to be accused to save his father. He lacks self-confidence, and is influenced not just by Berg but by the supernatural feel he gets from the forest and lake
Very little happens in the story. It is taken up with representation of the ‘primeval’ world the outcasts live in, and with how they sort out what really happened in the past for one to be dubbed a murderer and the other a thief.
The main events are.
- They live the forest life but not as criminal ‘outlaws’, Berg excited by the chase but only with ‘half’ of himself, Tord scared.
- Tord reveals that he is not really a thief, but shielding his father, which Berg despises (ironically from the viewpoint of his final betrayal by Tord)
- They see Unn, Berg’s former lover, perhaps, whom Tord now falls in love with.
- Berg tells Tord about his wife’s jealousy of Unn, leading to the Bishop’s public humiliation of Berg and Tord and his murder of the Bishop for the sake of Unn’s honour.
- Berg tells Tord about God and Tord thinks Berg ought to confess – which means being tortured.
- Tord gathers villagers to take Berg and eventually tells Berg that he has done so, then has a last minute change of heart, but too late.
- Berg turns on Tord but is killed by him, also to punish Unn, but is heartbroken.
At the end the reader is left with questions
1 What is the source of Tord’s overwhelming love and admiration of Berg? Is he a kind of father? It’s only as the story develops that he is concerned with his being a murderer.
2 What is the significant of Berg’s concern with self-assertion, and what we might call ‘rank’. He despises Tord for being a thief, and falls ‘naturally’ into treating him as a servant. At first he mocks Tord for not helping the villagers to capture him, then at the end wants to kill him for doing just that.
3 Why is so much attention given to description of the landscape? Are we to see the atmosphere of the place as more powerful than anything else in the story?
4 Berg’s murder would have been forgotten about, perhaps, if it were not a holy man whom he had killed. His murder of the Bishop is in keeping with an earlier moral code of honour and revenge in which Berg’s action would be ‘normal’ - defending Unn’s and his own honour.
5 What do we assume about the relationship between Berg and Unn? And how do we view the action of Berg’s wife, and of Unn herself?
6 What do we make of the God Berg teaches Tord about? How do we react ourselves to the conflict between love and justice, as it seems at the end?