Short summary - Peer Gynt - Henrik Johan Ibsen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Peer Gynt
Henrik Johan Ibsen

The action of the poem covers the time from the beginning to the 60s. 19th century and takes place in Norway (in the Gudbrand Valley and the surrounding mountains), on the Moroccan Mediterranean coast, in the Sahara desert, in a lunatic asylum in Cairo, on the sea and again in Norway, in the homeland of the hero.

A young village boy, Peer Gynt, fools around, deceiving his mother Ose. He tells her a story about a deer hunt. The wounded deer soars with Per astride it to the top of the ridge, and then jumps from a height into a crystal clear, like a mirror, lake, rushing towards its own reflection. With bated breath, Ose listens. She does not immediately catch on: she knows this story - Per only slightly altered the old legend, trying it on himself. The son's torn clothes are explained to others - he had a fight with the blacksmith Aslak. The surrounding guys often bully Per: he likes to dream up, and in his dreams he sees himself as a hero of fairy tales or legends - a prince or a king, while those around him consider his stories to be empty boasting and nonsense. In general, Per is too arrogant! Still, because he is the son of the captain, even if he was drunk, squandered his fortune and abandoned his family. And one more thing - girls like Per. On this occasion, the mother complains: why not marry Ingrid, the daughter of a wealthy farmer? Then they would have both the land and the estate! But Ingrid looked at Per. Sorry! Just in the evening they play her wedding, Ingrid marries Mas Mona.

For Mas Mona? A mattress and a simpleton? This will not happen! Per is going to the wedding! Trying to dissuade her son, Osa threatens - she will go with her son and discredit him in front of everyone! Ah well! Per, laughing and playfully, puts his mother on the roof of someone else's house: let him sit here until she is removed, but for now he goes to the holiday.

At the wedding, the uninvited guest is greeted with hostility. Girls don't go dancing with him. Per immediately distinguishes among them Solveig, the daughter of a peasant sectarian from settlers. She is so beautiful, pure and modest that even he, a dashing guy, is afraid to approach her. Per invites Solveig several times, but each time he is rejected. In the end, the girl confesses to him: she is ashamed to go with a drunk. In addition, she does not want to upset her parents: the strict rules of their religion do not make exceptions for anyone. Per is upset. Taking advantage of the moment, the guys offer him a drink in order to laugh at him later. Per is also angered and provoked by the clumsy groom, who does not know how to treat the bride ... Unexpectedly, even for himself, Per grabs the bride under the arm and, “like a pig”, in the words of one of the guests, takes her to the mountains.

Per's passionate impulse is short-lived, he almost immediately releases Ingrid on all four sides: she is far from Solveig! Furious, Ingrid leaves, and Per is rounded up. He hides in the depths of the forest, where he is welcomed by three shepherdesses who reject their troll friends for his love. Here, in the morning, Per meets the Woman in the Green Cloak, the daughter of the King of Dover, the ruler of the evil spirits living in the forest - trolls, kobolds, goblins and witches. Per wants a Woman, but even more he wants to be a real prince - even a forest one! The Dovra grandfather (this is the name of the forest courtiers of the king) sets tough conditions: the trolls profess “soil” principles, they do not recognize free travel outside the forest and are content only with homemade food, clothing, customs. The princess will be given in marriage to Per, but first he should put on a tail and drink the local mead (liquid droppings). Grimacing, Per agrees to both. Everything in the palace of the Dovre grandfather looks hardened and ugly, but this, as the Dovre grandfather explains, is only a defect in the human outlook on life. If, after performing an operation, Peru's eyes are distorted, he will also see black instead of white and beautiful instead of ugly, that is, he will acquire the worldview of a true troll. But Per, who is ready for almost everything for the sake of power and glory, does not go to the operation - he was and will remain a man! The trolls pounce on him, but when they hear the sounds of the church bell, they let him go.

Per is in a swoon between life and death. The invisible Curve envelops him with fetters and calls for the reprisal of winged demons. Per stumbles and falls, but church singing and bells are heard again. With a cry: "Death to me, the women are behind him!" Curve releases Per.

He is found in the forest by his mother and Solveig. Ose informs his son: for the kidnapping of Ingrid, he is now outlawed and can only live in the forest. Per builds himself a hut. It has already snowed and the house is almost ready when Solveig comes skiing to him: she left her strict but beloved parents, deciding to stay with him forever.

Per does not believe his luck. He leaves the hut for brushwood and unexpectedly meets in the forest a very stupefied Woman in Green with a freak, whom she introduces Peru as his son - he, by the way, does not meet his father very friendly ("I'll hit daddy with an ax!"). The troll demands from Per to drive Solveig away! Or maybe the three of them will live in his house? Per is in despair, he is weighed down by a heavy sense of guilt. He is afraid to soil Solveig with his past and does not want to deceive her. So he must give it up! Saying goodbye, he leaves the hut supposedly for a minute, but in reality forever.

Peru has no choice but to flee the country, but he does not forget about his mother and visits her. Ose is ill, a neighbor helps her; simple property in the house is described by the bailiff. Of course, the son is to blame for the mother’s misfortune, but Ose justifies him, she believes that Per itself is not bad, he was ruined by wine. The old woman feels that she does not have long to live - her feet are cold, the cat is scratching the door (a bad omen!). Per sits on the bed and, consoling his mother, tells her a fairy tale in a singsong voice. They are both invited to the magical castle of Suria Muria. The crow is already harnessed, they are driving through a snowy field, through a forest. Here is the gate! They are met by Saint Peter himself, and Osya, as an important lady, is served coffee and cake. The gate is behind, they are at the castle. Per praises his mother for her cheerful disposition, for patience and caring, he did not appreciate them before, so let the owner of the magic castle reward her for her kindness! Looking askance at Ose, Per sees that she has died. Without waiting for the funeral (according to the law, anyone can kill him outside the forest), he leaves "beyond the sea, the farther the better."

Many years pass. Per Gynt is in his fifties. Well-groomed and prosperous, he receives guests on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco. Nearby in the sea is his American-flagged yacht. Per's guests: the businesslike master Cotton, the thoughtfully meaningful von Eberkopf, the beau monde Monsieur Ballon and the laconic but ardent Trumpeterstrole (Swede) - extol the host for hospitality and generosity. How did a man of the people manage to make such a brilliant career! In careful terms, trying not to hurt the liberal-progressive views of the guests, Peer Gynt tells them the truth: he speculated in China in church antiques and was engaged in the slave trade in the southern states in America. Now he is heading to Greece on a yacht and can offer business to his friends. Perfect! They will gladly help the Greek rebels in their fight for freedom! Here, here, confirms Gynt, he wants them to fan the flames of rebellion as much as possible. The greater will be the demand for weapons. He will sell it to Turkey, and they will share the profits together. The guests are confused. They are ashamed and at the same time sorry for the lost profits. Von Eberkopf finds a way out - the guests take away Gynt's yacht and sail away on it. Cursing the failed companions, Per threatens to follow them - and a miracle! - the yacht loaded with weapons explodes! God keeps Gynt for further accomplishments.

Morning. Gynt hides from predatory animals on a palm tree, but even here he finds himself in a society of ... monkeys. Instantly orienting, Per adapts to the laws of the pack. The adventure ends happily. Jumping off the tree, the hero wanders further through the desert, imagining the majestic project of irrigating the Sahara. Peer Gynt will turn the desert into an ideal country - Guntiana, he will settle the Norwegians in it and will encourage their pursuit of the sciences and arts that will flourish in such a fertile climate. The only thing he's missing right now... is a horse. Surprisingly, Gynt gets it right away. The horse and precious clothes were hidden behind the dune by thieves, who were frightened off by the guards who were looking for them.

Dressed in oriental clothes, Gynt goes further, and in one of the oases the Arabs take him for an important person - according to Gynt himself, for a prophet. The newly-appeared prophet is seriously interested in the charms of the local houri - Anitra, but she deceives him - she does not need a soul (which she asked the prophet), but Gunt's jewelry. The role of the prophet also failed him.

Next stop is Pera in Egypt. Looking at the Sphinx and the statue of Memnon, Per imagines himself to be a famous historian and archaeologist. Mentally, he builds grandiose plans for travel and discoveries, but ... does the face of the Sphinx remind him of someone? Whom? Isn't it Dovre's grandfather? Or the mysterious Curve?

Per shares his guesses with a certain Begriffenfeld, and he, very interested in the interlocutor, promises to introduce him to his Cairo friends. In a house with barred windows, Begriffenfeld informs under a terrible secret: literally an hour ago, Absolute Reason passed away - they are in a madhouse. Begriffenfeld, its director, introduces Per to the sick: Gutu, a champion of the revival of the ancient language of Indian monkeys, Fellach, who considers himself the sacred bull of the ancient Egyptians Apis, and Hussein, who imagines himself to be a pen that needs to be sharpened immediately, which he does himself, cutting his own throat penknife. This whole fantastic scene was well understood by Ibsen's contemporaries; in it, on the "Egyptian" material, attacks against national Norwegian romanticism are encrypted: Gutu, as they assume, is Ivar Osen, the creator of Lansmol, an artificial language composed of peasant dialects (by the way, he now reads it and almost half of the country's population writes), fellah is a Norwegian bond (that is, a peasant), a "sacred cow" and the ideal of Norwegian romantics, Hussein is Foreign Minister Manderström, who betrayed the ideals of Scandinavianism during the Danish-Prussian military conflict in 1864: he replaced the specific actions of Sweden and Norway in defense of Denmark by writing countless notes of protest, for which he was nicknamed by Ibsen in a newspaper article "a capable pen." Stunned by the atmosphere of madness and the suicide that took place before his eyes, Per faints, and the insane director of the yellow house sits on him and crowns his head with a straw wreath of a fool.

Many more years pass. A completely gray-haired Peer Gynt returns to his homeland. His ship is sinking off the coast of Norway, but Gynt, caught on a boat thrown into the sea, manages to escape. On board the ship, Per was pursued by an Unknown Passenger, who vainly begged from him for his body "for the purposes of science" - after all, Per, in his opinion, would certainly die soon. And the same Passenger appears in the sea again and clings to the overturned boat; to a direct question whether he is the Devil, the Passenger answers evasively and casuistically with a question to a question, in turn denouncing Per as a person who is not very strong in spirit.

Per safely reaches his native area. He accidentally ends up in a cemetery, where he listens to a priest's laudatory word over the coffin of a villager - a man who cut off his finger with a sickle during the war (Per in his youth became an accidental witness to this scene). This man redeemed his cowardice with his whole life and, mainly, with his tireless work and earned the respect of society. In the words of the priest of Peru, one can hear a reproach - after all, he did not create either a family or a home. In his former village, at Ingrid's funeral, Per meets many old acquaintances who have grown old beyond recognition. Yes, and he himself remains unrecognized, although people remember him - the local police chief, for example, recalling Per, calls him a poet who believed in a fairy-tale reality he had invented. But Pera immediately recognizes Buttonman in the forest, who has been looking for him for a long time. Gynt's time on earth is over, and Buttonmaker intends to immediately pour his soul into a button on the spot - after all, Per's soul will not go to Heaven or Hell, it is only suitable for remelting. Buttonhole doesn't consider Per a scoundrel, but he wasn't a good person either, was he? Most importantly, Peer Gynt did not fulfill his destiny on earth - he did not become himself (a unique and inimitable personality), he only tried on various average-standard roles. However, Per knows this himself, unless recently he himself compared himself to an onion. The bulb also does not have a solid core and consists of only skins. Per was and remains a tumbleweed.

Peer Gynt is downright scared. What could be worse than the remelting of the soul - its transformation into an absolutely amorphous faceless greyness? He asks Buttonhole for a respite, he will prove to him that there was something whole in his nature! Buttonhole releases Per. But his meetings with the grandfather of Dovra, who had lost his former power, and with the Kostlyavy (Devil?) do not give anything definite, and Gynt now needs exactly this - definite! Wandering through the forest, Per comes to the hut he once built. On the threshold he is met by Solveig, aged, but happy to see him again. Only now Peer Gynt understands that he is saved. Even under the most diverse masks, throughout his colorful life, he remained himself - in the hope, faith and love of the woman who was waiting for him.

Buttonhole releases Per with a warning that he will be waiting for him at the next crossroads. They will still talk to each other.