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Literature / Seven Brothers

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"Just so! It is good to be here! Thanks, Lauri, for the way you found for us to escape from the markets of the world. Here is freedom and peace. I ask once more: what would we care if golden flames were to burn down the whole of this world, if only the northern end of Jukola’s lands and its seven sons were saved."
Juhani

Seven Brothers (Finnish: Seitsemän veljestä) is a 1870 novel by Aleksis Kivi, a story about the seven brothers of Jukola, a house near the fictional village of Toukola in 19th century Finland.

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The story begins as the brothers, their parents now dead, decide to try and become proper people and take responsibility of their lives to their own hands. They face difficulties in the society, and when finally fed up, they build a new home in Impivaara, in the middle of the wilderness, to live in isolation. During the ten years there, however, the brothers find that peaceful and sustainable life still evades them. Eventually they try to fix their ways again with renewed motivation. Through hard work they repair their social standing and reputation and learn to read. Six of the seven get married and some achieve respectable public positions, and all proceed to lead mostly stable, peaceful lives.

The main characters, the seven brothers, have individual traits which can be described by the following tropes:

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The work is regarded as the first novel in Finnish language, and it paved way for Finnish literature and realistic portrayal of Finnish people. As an important piece of national identity, the novel is still required school reading in Finnish secondary level education.

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This work provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Agony of the Feet: The brothers must run barefoot through freezing-temperature snow to seek shelter after their Impivaara house burns down on Christmas night.

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: After the brothers have begun farming, and making their own spirits from the grain (and drinking it), Simeoni and Eero are sent to the city to sell rye and spirits and buy high-quality food and drink so that the brothers can properly celebrate Michaelmas. They return over a week later, empty-handed, with all the money wasted on more liquor and pastries in the city, and with their horse suffering from lack of food.

  • Bears Are Bad News: Inverted, as the Hunter Trapper brothers are bad news for bears, although they too know to treat this game with respect. Their father, too, killed over fifty bears during his lifetime, and when he was finally killed by one himself, it was a Mutual Kill.

  • Beware the Quiet Ones: Lauri. In the last brawl with Toukola men toward the end of the story, Lauri is described as the most fierce fighter, "pale as an angel of death", that no one can stand up to. Later, his wife also experiences that while the man can take a lot of nagging, his patience can give out, and then it is better to hide.

  • Brutal Honesty: The drunken Lauri on the rock.

  • Brutish Bulls: A hunting trip goes off the rails due to forty of these.

  • The Cavalry: One-man version. Kyösti Tammisto takes the role in the brawl at the auction, when the brothers are outnumbered.

  • Catapult Nightmare: Lauri bounds up from the ground when he wakes from his scary dream.

  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Timo wonders how can the others believe Aapo's story about a fox and a bear, because animals can't talk. Juhani then explains to him that the story originates from an older time, when animals still could.
    • When Simeoni shares his alcohol-induced revelation, which includes reading the Devil's personal greetings on a piece of leather, Juhani in particular gets anxious about this story, but Timo comments on that Simeoni has learned to read during the journey.

  • Contrived Coincidence: In the beginning, The Narrator tells that prior to the book's events, when the lands were redistributed in the great partition, the farsighted founder of the Jukola farm had agreed to take a burnt-down forest, and this way had received more land than others. Seven times more, to be exact. The land is normal forest again when the brothers' story begins.

  • Corporal Punishment: Eero gets spanked at times by his older brothers when his jesting annoys them too much.

  • Cycle of Revenge: During the story, one emerges between the Jukola brothers and the men of Toukola, resulting in several injuries, but no loss of life.

  • Darkest Hour: After having started a brawl at a public auction, the brothers expect imprisonment. Juhani in particular takes it hard, would kill himself if not physically restrained, and plans living as a wandering robber to avoid the law.

  • Denied Food as Punishment: The church warden hopes to make the brothers learn their ABC books quicker this way.

  • Determinator: Learning to read as grown-up men and creating enough new farmland for seven men and their families takes a lot of time and sweat, but the brothers find the will in the end.

  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • When the brothers fell forest and burn it to make new farmland, they decide to do it on their own, without informing any owners of the neighboring lands. The fire gets out of control, and they have their hands full in preventing a full-blown forest fire.
    • Timo finds a wolf caught in the brothers' trap pit, and decides to surprise the others with the catch. Timo puts ladders in the pit, and standing on them tries to club the wolf to death. However, the wolf evades him, and he has to fetch the others to help. The armed brothers arrive, but find no wolf in the pit, only the ladders left by Timo.

  • Disproportionate Retribution: Juhani's practice.
    • One fellow of Toukola snatches Juhani's ABC book and throws it into the bush. When the ensuing mayhem ends, Juhani returns to focus grabbing the begging man's windpipe, forces him to hand the book back nicely and give it a kiss, and tells him to thank God for getting out easily.
    • Juhani vows to skin another man's head from the neck up to the eyebrows the next time they meet... for creating lyrics for a mocking song. He goes through with it in the next encounter.

  • Dramatic Thunder: When the brothers kill the whole herd of bulls to save their lives, the slaughter is started upon hearing a beginning thunder. It starts to rain when the animals are dead.

  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After a long period of running away from society, which turns out no good, the brothers turn to hard work to become respectable people.

  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • In the short childhood Flashback, where the brothers hide from punishment in the forest for days, sustained by stolen food, there are some efficient introductions: Juhani is carefree and enjoys the moment, though he knows what's coming at them, and dominates the discussion. Aapo is shown to be conciliatory and thinking ahead. Lauri, meanwhile, is quietly doing his own thing while the others chat.
    • The first Disproportionate Retribution example for Juhani.
    • Tuomas ultimately shows his lawfulness in that he is ready to throw the drunken Lauri down to the bulls, once Juhani says the word. Even Juhani himself is immediately shocked and joins the struggle to save Lauri. Tuomas is also one brother that Lauri actually said he likes in his drunken rant, so it's nothing personal, though Tuomas is clearly annoyed by Lauri's behaviour in general.

  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: A story about seven brothers.

  • Force Feeding: The brothers agree that the losers in their disc-hitting game will have to eat ten pounds of bull meat, during the days when they are already enjoying plenty of it.

  • Forgiveness: Part of how the major conflicts are eventually solved. The local lay judge ensures that no court case is raised of the great fight at the auction, knowing the brothers are not solely at fault. The vicar, who initially was stern to get the brothers literate, eventually decides not to bother the brothers anymore, realizing it is a wasted and harmful effort, which leads the brothers to happily take the learning into their own hands. The church warden helps the brothers make peace with the Toukola men, ending their Cycle of Revenge.

  • The Gadfly: Eero is fond of indirect insults particularly towards Juhani.

  • Gratuitous Greek: The church warden in the end of his peace-making speech to the Jukola brothers and Toukola men. Stating that this reconciliation is the will of both God and himself, whosoever does not heed their word, "let them be anathema and maranatha and be scorched by the devils in hell". note 

  • Gypsy Curse: Early in the story, a gypsy woman angered by the brothers' taunts tells them their future: their house will burn down and they will have to fight bloodily against both beasts and men. Cue a House Fire, Savage Wolves, and a Cycle of Revenge.

  • Heal It with Booze: After a fight, the brothers heal their wounds with a salve where spirits is one ingredient.

  • Heaven Above:
    • At one point the brothers imagine their parents watching down from atop a cloud, and in general they take heaven rather literally.
    • In the epilogue part of the story, when rain starts pouring down on Juhani working in the field, he shouts upwards whether they're only now spreading dung in heaven's fields when he's already harvesting the crop.

  • House Fire: The brothers' first Impivaara house burns down, on a freezing Christmas night.

  • Hunter Trapper: This is how the brothers live during the most of their Impivaara years.

  • Insult Backfire: When the drunken Lauri calls Timo a goat, Timo takes no offence, but rather thanks him for the compliment, because goat milk is good.

  • Interrupted Suicide:
    • Juhani, when he believes prison is the only option.
    • Simeoni tries to hang himself in the epilogue, but is rescued.

  • In Vino Veritas: When the brothers are trapped by the angry bulls on the large rock, Lauri gets drunk, and then proceeds to give the others a taste of Brutal Honesty.

  • Just Following Orders: Several cases, when Juhani as The Leader commands.
    • Tuomas is ready to kill Lauri for raising trouble on the brothers' narrow rock refuge.
    • Timo's defence for heating the sauna so hot that it burns down during the night.
    • Eero uses this justification for casting some ale onto the hot stones in the sauna, although Aapo and especially Tuomas are against it.

  • Like Father, Like Son: The brothers have inherited their late father's urge for hunting, along with the side-effect of neglecting the house and fields.

  • Literal-Minded: Timo is not good with figures of speech.

  • Massive Numbered Siblings: The seven sons of Jukola.

  • Mistaken for Apocalypse: Waking up to a combination of thunder, lightning, and ringing of bells due to a fire in the village makes the brothers briefly think the hour has come.

  • Nested Story: Aapo is often asked to tell stories to the others, and these are then told by The Narrator. The tales are often chilling in nature.

  • Never Learned to Read: A part of what kicks off the plot progression. In the beginning, the brothers age from 17 to 25, and the vicar wants them to finally take the ABC book into their hands.

  • Never My Fault: Early in the story, the brothers are sick of receiving unfriendly treatment, and fail to see their own action's influence on this.

  • OOC Is Serious Business: Lauri's drunken rant shocks the other brothers.

  • Pink Elephants: Eero describes Simeoni talking about one-inch-tall men swarming around him during the return part of the alcohol-rich trip to the city. Days later, when Simeoni is finally found in the forest, he claims that he has seen Lucifer himself, as they flew together to the Moon, where he foresaw the end of the world.

  • Plot-Triggering Death: The brothers have lived a carefree life, until their mother dies and the responsibility for the house must fall on one of them.

  • Poor Communication Kills: Upon returning to their original home Jukola after ten years, the brothers decide to have a welcome party and to invite anyone they meet on the road. Trying to invite an old, hostile, deaf hermit results in one of the brothers getting punched and ultimately the invitation refused.

  • Proverbial Wisdom: Inverted. Timo tends to use lots of proverbs, but their relevancy and helpfulness is questionable at best. The Narrator describes a drunken argument where Timo enrages Juhani by arguing persistently with "proverbs, Bible verses, and lame parables".

  • Rage Breaking Point: The suppression part is not long, but at least the brothers try the first time when getting mocked by the Toukola gang.

  • Real Dreams Are Weirder: Juhani recalls a dream he had, about seven eggs in a nest. The cock and hen died, the nest was attacked by rodents and the eggs were broken... and then the brothers themselves made scrambled eggs of the mess and ate it with pleasure, at which point Simeoni stops trying to interpret the dream.

  • Repeat After Me: When the excited brothers believe they're being stalked by a real troll in the nightly woods, they want to banish it, and Simeoni whispers some exorcising words into Juhani's ear to shout. When Simeoni says that the troll shows no reaction, Juhani repeats that too, though stops halfway as he catches on.

  • Revenge Before Reason: After a fight resulting from an ambush by the Toukola gang, Juhani is bloodthirsty and bent to give back in kind, though Aapo suggests that now law will be on their side in the matter.

  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Juhani cites a legend which says that eating a certain legendary snake under the right conditions will allow a man to know his future. Eero adds that a variation of the ritual allows a man to know his past. Juhani dismisses this as childish and stupid, since that knowledge is obvious to anyone. Aapo notes that, although Eero was probably only jesting again, there is actually wisdom in there.

  • Rule of Three: Crops of two years in a row are lost to frost in the new farmlands of Impivaara. The brothers work to drain the nearby bog after both disasters. In the third year, even though cold nights occur, the frost doesn't hit.

  • Satan: Lucifer appears in Simeoni's drunken hallucinations. He has a tower made of boot-leather on the Moon.

  • Savage Wolves: A pack of wolves starts chasing the brothers as they escape from their burnt-down house.

  • Settling the Frontier: Although the brothers' new Impivaara home is situated on Jukola property and not too far from civilization, they effectively live separated from others. Toward the end of the story, they turn vast areas of forest into farmland around the house.

  • Simple Staff: Nearby wooden stakes are used as improvised weapons in some fights.

  • Sore Loser / Unsportsmanlike Gloating: Juhani displays both in the wresting during the Christmas evening, as he beats anyone up to the challenge, except for Tuomas.

  • Speech-Centric Work: Partly, in that the story alternates between sections of narration and sections of uninterrupted dialogue, and often actions and events are described in character lines only.

  • Stern Teacher: The church warden, though to the brothers he appears more like Sadist Teacher. In the end he confesses that he regrets being so hard and that he has been taught the same way himself.

  • Stock Punishment: The brothers are threatened with this, after breaking the church warden's window and insulting the vicar.

  • The Storyteller: Aapo. The Narrator of the novel is also explicitly telling a story about the brothers.

  • Strong Family Resemblance: The brothers are all described as having peculiarly brown skin and coarse hair.

  • Taking A Third Option: When cornered on the rock by the angry bulls of Viertola estate, the brothers gradually lose their hope, since the bulls won't leave, and their cries for help are not heard. They face death by starvation if they stay on the rock, or death by mauling if they try to climb down. Finally it occurs to the brothers that they possess enough ammunition to kill every one of the animals.

  • The Teetotaler:
    • Lauri sticks to his decision to never drink again after his drunken rant, which happens before the brothers start making their own booze.
    • All other brothers, save Timo and Simeoni, abandon alcohol after settling down.

  • Virgin-Shaming: Implied in one line, where the drunken Lauri tells Simeoni that he would weep if he saw something that girls don't show to the likes of him.

  • Wake-Up Call:
    • The death of the brothers' mother in the beginning (also a Plot-Triggering Death) since the brothers realize they must begin taking care of the farm themselves.
    • Simeoni's drunken revelation and Lauri's dream encourage the brothers to quit with drinking and improve their ways.

  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The last chapter is dedicated to describing each brother's life after settling down.
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