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Literature / Fellow Man

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Fellow Man (Medmenneske) is a novel written by Norwegian author Olav Duun in 1929.

The book tells the story of Ragnhild, a farmer´s wife in the area of outer Trøndelag, Norway, at the turn of the nineteenth century. Ragnhild is almost Too Good for This Sinful Earth, and cares for her fellow men. This comes with a price tag, because of her father-in-law, Didrik. He is a Manipulative Bastard who always double-crosses his son Hakon, and thwarts every plan Hakon has. Didrik is set on "having his rights", and stops at nothing to get them. He is constantly into legal process, and is justly disliked by a number of the other farmers. But as he always seems to know something about them, he has some power, and is left alone.

Ragnhild tries really hard to make Hakon and Didrik get along. Hakon has no illusions in this respect, but Ragnhild tries anyway. It turns nasty when Hakon is pushed so far, he threatens to handle his father violently if Didrik doesn´t stop. When Didrik confronts Ragnhild in the smithy, threatening her with legal action because of a will, and even pushing her personal borders, she uses an axe against him, hewing him down. Later, she states that she did this for two reasons: To protect her husband from doing the same, and because Didrik "was not human anymore".


Ragnhild gets a sting of conscience afterwards. It gets worse when Hakon does not protect her, and she decides to give herself up, because he wasn´t the man she thought he was.

Duun later wrote two sequels, telling the story of Ragnhild when she returned from jail, and her later years. The story became a classic psychological thriller, because it described sociopathic behaviour in a rather direct way.



  • Abusive Parents: The novel has a pretty jarring description of how Didrik wipes the floor with his youngest son, 13 year old Arn.
  • An Axe to Grind: The axe Ragnhild meant to chop firewood with on a chilly morning, wasn´t in the woodshed, and she had to fetch it in the smithy. Didrik apparently spent the night there, and then...
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Although there is a sense of "customary grief" concerning the death of Didrik, relief is the most persisting sentiment all over. Only one girl (Indianna) actually feels remorse for him.
  • Archnemesis Dad: Didrik is a prime example, constantly making things worse for his children. No wonder Lea actually hates him, and Håkon suffers from suppressed rage most of the time. It is foreshadowed early on that someone will end up with blood on their hands, and Didrik will end up dead. The twist is, nobody expected Ragnhild to wield the axe.
  • Attempted Rape: Didrik has a history. His final attempt towards Ragnhild led to his demise. The lesson is Never push a woman who wields an axe!
  • Blatant Lies: Didrik is not shy about this. He bluffs Karl Albert when he tells him he has Fagernesset (the farm Lea owns) on his hand, but does not mention the fact that he owes his daughter a shitload of money. It gets worse from there.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Nobody ever expected Ragnhild to actually kill someone.
  • Blithe Spirit: Ragnhild came to Stavsund (nicknamed "Home of the Hapless"), and eventually brightened everyone`s mood. Lampshaded by Tale, who flatly states that a girl with her cheery disposition should never have come there.
  • Broken Bird: Tale, Didrik´s wife. Also Lea, his daughter from a previous marriage. On the male side we have Paul, and possibly Håkon.
  • Butt-Monkey: Paul, former Love Interest of Ragnhild, at Didrik´s behest. He finally snaps and beats up Didrik after a party, and is later willing to take the blame for Didrik´s murder.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A will, set up on the death of Didrik´s aunt. He expects her to let him inherit her wealth, but she thwarts him, giving all her money to Hakon. This makes Didrik accuse Ragnhild of manipulation, and is a partial cause of his death.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Morten, Hakon`s brother-in-law, who knows what Didrik did a long time ago.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Ragnhild and Paul. They grew up together, and was just moments away from a full Childhood Marriage Promise.
  • Cool Old Lady: The old aunt, called the "white owl", who knows Didrik well enough, and laughs at the thought of him not getting his way. She is on the side of Ragnhild and Hakon all the way.
  • Crapsack World: At least Ragnhild comes to this conclusion in the end: "You always have to bear what the world forces on you".
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ragnhild grew up without a father, and her mother died when she was eight years old. After that, she had to be taken in, and earned her ways from the age of fifteen.
  • Dirty Business: Somebody had to get Didrik out of the way, and Ragnhild concludes by stating she is glad she was the one to do it.
  • Domestic Abuse: Didrik takes it out on Tale when he doesn´t get his way.
  • The Dutiful Son: Håkon, although his father always tries to get the better of him.
  • Dysfunctional Family: Didrik, Tale, and their children. The eldest, Johannes, went to sea early, because he couldn´t stand his father. Håkon was about to do the same when Ragnhild showed up. Tale is just known for her cold grins and hard ways, made from a constant survival mode.
  • Evil Laugh: Didrik does a rather epic one after slapping Tale. The sound of this laughter makes her drop straight to the floor.
  • Gray-and-Gray Morality: Håkon states that "if you do something right, something wrong will always follow". He says he learned that from his father, "who always wanted to be on the right side".
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Håkon seems to be calm enough, but his father nags him, and that makes him angry, at least boiling with frustration. No wonder Ragnhild tries to solve all tensions between them. She knows Didrik will suffer some heavy blows if Håkon is pushed too far.
  • Heel Realisation: Several. Ragnhild gets one when she understands Didrik is beyond rescue, and has another one before she turns herself in. Hakon has one as well, when he learns that his father actually killed a man. This last one came to late, because Ragnhild already has alerted the police on her crime at this point.
  • I Did What I Had to Do:
    • Ragnhild explains her action this way, for different reasons. First, she reasons, Didrik was "not human anymore" (a fact that dawns on several characters from the middle of the book). Second, she would rather do it than see her husband (Didrik`s son) do it, and thus spare him the agony afterwards. Either way, most of them wish him dead already in chapter three of the book. The last reason, is that Didrik pushed Ragnhild´s personal borders a mite too far for his own good. That reason was self defence.
    • Håkon states this trope verbatim as well, when saying he almost forced Ragnhild to give herself up.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: Didrik´s farm, nicknamed "Home of the hapless".
  • It's All About Me: Didrik again.
  • Karmic Death: Didrik had killed a sami many years before, with the stroke of an axe. Thus, he had it coming.
  • Lawful Stupid: Hakon is not willing to see the bigger picture after the death of Didrik. His reaction implies that he is not willing to support Ragnhild. This makes her give up and turn herself in.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Didrik.
  • The Münchausen: Didrik excels in his personal experiences while drunk. Usually, he chooses his words carefully, but at one point, the other farmers decide to fill him up and succeed. The result is an hilarious round of boasts.
  • No Holds Barred Beat Down: Someone, probably Paul, kicked Didrik´s ass good and proper, and left him quite helpless in a ditch. It is stated this is not the first time someone kicked the crap out of him.
  • Offing the Offspring: Didrik. He almost forced his eldest son off the farm, tries to out-gambit his other son, and tries to sell away the farm of his only daughter right under her nose. He does actually make life a living hell for everyone around him.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the the will is made known, most of the goods go to Håkon. Didrik gets a bible and a walking stick. He does not take this well, and by his reaction, all others present understand that some serious shit is about to go down. Cue all others present go "Yep, and NOW what?"
  • One-Hit Kill: It takes one stroke of an axe to finish Didrik. Granted - he had already taken several blows from Paul at this point.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Lea, sister of Hakon, has a tendency to talk big. She says the right things in a wrong way and at the wrong time.
  • Plagued by Nightmares: Ragnhild has coped with her crime, but the bad dreams come to her eventually. This one is pretty scary: She dreams that she is surrounded by priests, just staring at her, and in front of them stands The Devil. Behind her is the things she has to protect - her loved ones and her child. She hews down the Devil again and again, "but he just keeps coming". The being tells her that you can't kill evil with an axe.
  • The Pollyanna: Ragnhild - until her accidental murder. Her Character Development happens when it dawns on her that Didrik is beyond redemption. Util then, she really tries her best to reconcile the parts.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Didrik once killed a sami who saw him molest a young girl. Didrik apparently makes a move towards Ragnhild before he is hewn down.
  • Really Gets Around: Didrik. Tale actually seems to know something about this.
  • Rule of Three: Didrik has it coming. He has been beaten once, before the book began. During the story, he gets a second beating - and Tale states, quite correctly, that the third time will be the end of him. They all wonder who will finish the job.
  • Stepford Smiler: Tale, the wife of Didrik, copes with him this way.
  • The Stoic: Håkon - when his father is out of the way.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Didrik states that he has been accused of devilish ways for a long time, and NOW he will demonstrate the devil in him for all to see. As if he wasn´t evil before this point.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Håkon would have fared a little better if his father actually appreciated his efforts more. Too bad Didrik is busy Offing the Offspring for his own ends.
  • Wham Line: "You don´t kill evil with an axe". This comes to Ragnhild in a dream that also works as a Heel Realisation.


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