Short summary - Brand - Henrik Johan Ibsen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Brand
Henrik Johan Ibsen

West coast of Norway. Cloudy weather, morning twilight. Brand, a middle-aged man in black clothes and with a satchel on his shoulders, makes his way through the mountains to the west to the fjord where his native village lies. Brand is held by fellow travelers - a peasant with his son. They prove that a direct path through the mountains is deadly, you need to go around! But Brand does not want to listen to them. He shames the peasant for cowardice - he has a daughter at death, she is waiting for him, and the father hesitates, choosing a roundabout way. What would he give to have his daughter die peacefully? 200 thalers? All property? What about life? If he does not agree to give his life, all other victims do not count. All or nothing! Such is the ideal rejected by compatriots mired in compromises!

Brand breaks out of the hands of a peasant, and goes through the mountains. As if by magic, the clouds disperse, and Brand sees young lovers - they are also in a hurry to the fjord. Recently met Agnes and the artist Einar decided to join their lives, they enjoy love, music, art, communication with friends. Their enthusiasm does not evoke sympathy from the oncoming sympathy. In his opinion, life in Norway is not so good. Passivity and cowardice soar everywhere. People have lost the integrity of nature, their God now looks like a bald old man with glasses, condescendingly looking at laziness, lies and opportunism. Brand, a theologian by training, believes in another God - young and energetic, punishing for lack of will. The main thing for him is the formation of a new person, a strong and strong-willed personality who rejects deals with conscience.

Einar finally recognizes Brand as a school friend. The straightforwardness and ardor of his reasoning are repulsive - in Brand's theories there is no place for ingenuous joy or mercy, on the contrary, he denounces them as relaxing a person's beginnings. Those who met disperse along different paths - they will meet later on the shore of the fjord, from where they will continue their journey on the steamer.

Not far from the village of Brand, another meeting awaits - with the insane Gerd, a girl who is haunted by an obsession with a terrible hawk lurking her everywhere; she finds salvation from him only in the mountains on the glacier - in a place that she calls the "snow church". Gerd does not like the village below: there, according to her, "stuffy and cramped." After parting with her, Brand sums up his travel impressions: for a new person, he will have to fight with three "trolls" (monsters) - stupidity (rolled by the routine of life), frivolity (thoughtless pleasure) and nonsense (a complete break with people and reason).

After years of absence, everything in the village seems small to Brand. He finds the inhabitants in trouble: in the village - hunger. The local administrator (Vogt) distributes groceries to those in need. Approaching the audience, Brand, as always, expresses an extraordinary opinion: the situation of the starving is not so bad - they will have to fight for survival, and not idleness that kills the spirit. The villagers almost beat him for mocking their misfortune, but Brand proves that he has the moral right to treat others condescendingly - only he volunteers to help the dying man, who could not stand the sight of his hungry children and killed his youngest son in a fit of insanity, and then, realizing what he did, tried to lay hands on himself and now lies dying in his house on the other side of the fjord. Nobody dares to get there - a storm is raging in the fjord. Only Agnes dares to help Brand at the crossing. She is struck by the strength of his character, and she, contrary to Einar's calls to return to him, or at least to her parents, decides to share her fate with Brand. Local residents, also convinced of the firmness of his spirit, ask Brand to become their priest.

But Brand makes very high demands on them. His favorite motto "all or nothing" is as uncompromising as the famous Latin proverb: "Let the world perish, but justice will prevail." The new priest even denounces his old mother for her prudence and money-grubbing. He refuses to give her communion until she repents and distributes to the poor the property she has acquired and so much loved. Being near death, the mother sends for her son several times: she asks him to come, promising first to distribute half, then nine-tenths of everything she owns. But Brand disagrees. He suffers, but he cannot go against his convictions.

He is no less demanding of himself. In the house under the rock, where they have lived with Agnes for three years now, the sun rarely looks, and their son imperceptibly languishes. The doctor advises that in order to save Alpha, you must immediately move to another area. Staying is out of the question. And Brand is ready to leave. “Maybe the other Brands should not be too strict?” the doctor asks him. Brand is reminded of his duty by one of his parishioners: people in the village now live according to different, more honest rules, they do not believe the intriguing Vogt, who spreads rumors that Brand will leave as soon as he receives his mother's inheritance. Brand is needed by people, and he, having made an unbearably difficult decision, forces Agnes to agree with him.

Alf is dead. Agnes' grief is immeasurable, she constantly feels the absence of her son. The only thing she had left was the things and toys of the child. A gypsy woman who suddenly breaks into the pastor's house demands that Agnes share her wealth with her. And Brand orders to give things to Alpha - every single one! One day, seeing the child of Agnes and Brand, the mad Gerd said: “Alf is an idol!” Brand considers his grief and Agnes to be idolatry. Indeed, do they not revel in their grief and find perverted pleasure in it? Agnes resigns herself to her husband's will and gives away the last child's bonnet hidden from her. Now she has nothing left but her husband. She does not find comfort in faith - their God is too harsh with Brand, faith in him requires more and more sacrifices, and the church downstairs in the village is cramped.

Brand clings to a randomly dropped word. He will build a new, spacious and high church, worthy of the new man he preaches. Vogt prevents him in every possible way, he has his own plans of a more utilitarian nature (“We will build a workhouse / in connection with the arrest house, and an outbuilding for gatherings, meetings / and festivities, coupled with a madhouse”), besides, the Vogt is against the demolition of the old church, which considers it a cultural monument. Having learned that Brand is going to build with his own money, the Vogt changes his mind: he praises Brand's courage in every possible way, and from now on considers the old ruined church dangerous for visiting.

A few more years pass. The new church is built, but by this time Agnes is no longer alive, and the ceremony of consecrating the church does not inspire Brand. When an important church official starts talking to him about cooperation between church and state and promises him awards and honors, Brand feels nothing but disgust. He closes the building with a padlock, and takes the assembled parishioners to the mountains - on a campaign for a new ideal: from now on, the whole earthly world will be their temple! Ideals, however, even when they are precisely formulated (which Ibsen deliberately avoids in the poem), are always abstract, while their achievement is always concrete. On the second day of the campaign, Brand's parishioners were beating their legs, tired, hungry and desperate. Therefore, they easily allow themselves to be deceived by the Vogt, who informs them that huge schools of herring have entered their fjord. Former followers of Brand instantly convince themselves that they are deceived by him, and - quite logically - stone him to death. Well, Brand complains, such are the changeable Norwegians - quite recently they swore that they would help their Danish neighbors in the war against Prussia, which threatens them, but they were shamefully deceived (meaning the Danish-Prussian military conflict of 1864)!

Left alone in the mountains, Brand continues on his way. An invisible choir inspires him with the idea of the futility of human aspirations and the hopelessness of a dispute with the Devil or with God (“you can resist, you can reconcile - / you are condemned, man!”). Brand yearns for Agnes and Alpha, and then fate presents him with another test. Brand has a vision of Agnes: she consoles him - there are no serious reasons for despair, everything is fine again, she is with him, Alf grew up and became a healthy young man, their little old church stands in its place in the village. The trials that Brand went through, he only dreamed of in a terrible nightmare. It is enough to give up three words hated by her, Agnes, and the nightmare will dissipate (three words, Brand's motto is "all or nothing"). Brand stands the test, he will not betray either his ideals or his life and its suffering. If necessary, he is ready to repeat his path.

Instead of an answer from the fog, where the vision had just been, a piercing sound sounds: “The world does not need it - die!”

Brand is alone again. But the insane Gerd finds him, she brings Brand to the "snow church". Here the grace of mercy and love finally descends on the sufferer. But Gerd has already seen the hawk on top of the enemy and is shooting at him. An avalanche comes down. Carried away by the snow, Brand manages to ask the universe the last question: is the human will really as insignificant as a grain of sand on the powerful right hand of the Lord? Through the peals of thunder, Brand hears the Voice: “God, He is deus caritatis!” Deus caritatis means "God is merciful".