Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Melissa Allen's Senior Art Thesis

O.E.  Rolvaag

Melissa  Allen 
Norwegian Immigration in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries: Reasons, Challenges, and Adaptations

O.E. Rolvaag: A Pioneer's American Experience

O. E. Rolvaag’s Saga of the Prairie series characterizes the American Dream by paralleling human and American imperfection. Both have the potential for good but are susceptible to mistakes, especially as a result of miscommunication, which negatively affects the multiple generations of Rolvaag’s fictional Norwegian pioneer family. Per Hansa embarks on an arduous journey to fulfill his American Dream by establishing a home for himself and his family. However, his concern for his family lessens as his obsession for creating a utopia corrupts an otherwise honorable goal. Per Hansa’s single-minded determination to achieve his goal not only causes his marriage to suffer, but it also triggers the internal and external conflicts between his eldest sons, Ole and Store-Hans. The American Dream continues to negatively influence Per Hansa’s family because his American ambition is inherited by his youngest son, Peder, who is introduced to the next generation’s seductive dream that only America can offer.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, political, religious, and economic factors led some Norwegians to leave their homes and embark on a journey to the United States. The first Norwegians to immigrate to America were the Sloopers, who left Norway in 1825 in order to flee from political and religious abuse in their home country. Their fourteen-week journey was riddled with medical and weather-related challenges. They eventually arrived in America and found employment, bought land, and began to build new lives. Ten years later, the sloopers inspired the largest Norwegian immigration in the nineteenth century through the detailed letters they wrote from their new American homes. Thousands of impoverished Norwegians left their homes for a new life in America. They were drawn to the American values of acceptance, equality, and independence. The immigrants faced unexpected dangers as well as thrilling adventures on their sea voyage and lengthy journey to the Midwest. Once they arrived at their new homes, the Norwegians successfully created new American identities while they continued to practice the traditions of their native culture.

Major Works Consulted:

Hillbrand, Percie V. The Norwegians in America. Minneapolis: Lerner, 1967.
Rolvaag, O.E. Giants in the Earth: a Saga of the Prairie. New York: Perennial, 1999.
---. Peder Victorious: A Tale of the Pioneers Twenty Years Later. New York: Bison, 1982.
Skardal, Dorothy Burton. The Divided Heart: Scandinavian Immigration Experience through Literary Sources. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1974.
Photo Credit: Rolvaag, O.E. Giants in the Earth: a Saga of the Prairie. New York: Perennial, 1999.