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Literature / The Emigrants

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For where you go I go with you.

A novel suite by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, considered among the finest pieces of Swedish literature. The books have been translated into more than twenty languages, including English. The series consists of four books:

  • The Emigrants
  • The Immigrants (also published in English under the title Unto a Good Land)
  • The Settlers
  • The Last Letter Home

The suite tells the story of a group of people who became the first in their parish to move from Sweden to the United States during the mid-19th century. They emigrate for a variety of reasons; some to find gold and become rich, some to avoid religious persecution, some to get away from stigmas that follow them in their home parish. But the main focus in the books lies on a family that emigrates to escape poverty.

Karl Oskar and Kristina are a young married couple with an ever growing family who cannot make do on what little farm land they own. Their debt keeps growing, their crops keep failing and their situation keeps getting more desperate. Karl Oskar is very eager to move to America where they can farm as much land as they want and prosper from their hard work but Kristina doesn't want to go. She doesn't want to subject their children to the risks involved, pointing out that they don't know for sure what will happen in America or if they will even get any farm land there. She also reminds her husband that if they move they leave behind everything and everyone and will never get to see their parents, siblings and friends again. But when their oldest child dies from starvation Kristina agrees to move. Coming with them is Karl Oskar's brother Robert, his friend Arvid, Kristina's uncle Danjel and his family, the former town whore Ulrika and her daughter Elin, and Karl Oskar and Kristina's neighbour Jonas Petter.

The four books chronicle the group's journey across the Atlantic, their travels across America until they find a place they can settle down and how they build a new community in the New Land. The large cast of characters allows Moberg to explore several different versions of the dream of the New Land, such as Robert's pursuit of gold and Danjel's desire to freely practice his religious beliefs, but the heart and focus of the story stays with Karl Oskar and Kristina. Karl Oskar loves his new home and all the opportunities it brings, the perfect example of a happy immigrant. Kristina on the other hand never grows to like America and spends her life longing back to Sweden, the perfect example of an unhappy immigrant.

The series has a lot of gut-wrenching moments, with many tragedies befalling the various characters. It gives an honest portrayal of life in the mid-19th century and lets you get to know the characters really well. It is also very funny at times, with some witty dialogue and a character who loves to tell dirty stories. And the love story between Karl Oskar and Kristina is one of the simplest yet most captivating ones ever put on paper.

Two film adaptations were made, one in 1971 (The Emigrants) and one in 1972 (The New Land). The films are in Swedish, starring Max von Sydow as Karl Oskar, Liv Ullmann as Kristina (earned her an Academy Award nomination), Monica Zetterlund as Ulrika and several high ranking Swedish actors in the supporting cast. The films, both directed by Jan Troell, are generally considered among the finest in Swedish film making. For tropes found in the 1971 film The Emigrants, see below. For tropes found in The New Land, see its work page.

In 1995 a stage musical based on the books premiered, titled Kristina från Duvemåla (the English translation is simply known as Kristina), written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA. The show became a huge success and made stars out of Helen Sjöholm (Kristina) and Peter Jöback (Robert), the former so beloved in the role that she was the only Swedish cast member in the concert version of the English translation (reprising her role as Kristina). The English translation premiered in concert in 2009, getting mixed reviews both from fans of the original and from reviewers who had never seen the show before.

2021 is seeing a remake film coming out (in Swedish, like the original), starring Gustaf Skarsgård as Karl Oskar. It has the under-title The Last Letter to Sweden, like the title of the fourth book, and appears to be covering all four books in one film. Most fans of the original film appear happy with the choice of Skarsgård as Karl Oskar, even though comparisons to von Sydow will be inevitable.

The books provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Anders Månsson.
  • Always Identical Twins: Subverted almost to the point of Big-Lipped Alligator Moment. Kristina gives birth to fraternal twins but the boy only lives for about a week and is never brought up again, except for when Kristina at one point wonders if she's having twins again. The surviving twin, Märta, doesn't seem to be aware, or care, that she had a twin brother.
  • The American Civil War: Part of the 4th novel takes place during it. Karl Oscar volunteers to join the Union Army, but is rejected on medical grounds, much to Kristina's relief.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: It's an epic saga of poor Swedish peasants who move to the new land called America to improve their situations.
  • Anyone Can Die: Given that the books have multiple characters, and it's set in a gritty time period where there were numerous threats to one's life, there are quite a few people dead in each book. Characters whose deaths are portrayed include Kristina, Robert, Inga-Lena, Danjel, his two grown sons, his infant daughter, Arvid, young Anna, and finally Karl Oskar.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: From the cover of the English translation of The Settlers:
    Together they survive blizzards, grasshopper plagues, wildcat speculation in currency, and self-righteous neighbors.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Scurvy would not make a person bleed out of every orifice until they die of exsanguination.
  • Babies Make Everything Better: One of the most realistic depictions of how while this trope isn't exactly true, your children can still be a source of great joy. Especially prominent in the chapters that deal with the birth of Danjel, Karl Oskar and Kristina's first child to be born in America.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved:
    • Arvid is plagued by false rumors that he had sex with a cow and this why he chooses to emigrate.
    • Some comments are made about how settlers will often turn to their cattle because there are so few women around. By the same token, Robert gets told tales about prospectors decking out their mules in dresses and perfume before doing the deed so they will have the illusion of being with a woman.
  • The Big Guy: Karl Oskar is tall and sturdy, towering over most people. An aspect of his character that made it into the movie, where he is played by 1.94 meters (roughly 6 foot 5 inches) Max von Sydow. In the 2021 movie, he is portrayed by Gustaf Skarsgård, who is almost the exact same height, 1.93 meters. The role on stage was originated by Anders Ekborg, who is shorter at 1.76 m (roughtly 5 feet 9 inches).
  • Bittersweet Ending: Karl Oskar and Kristina's settlement has grown into a prosperous farm, and their children have grown into healthy, happy adults, enjoying opportunities they most likely would not have in Sweden. The Nilsson family, together with their fellow Ljuder emigrants, have helped turned the wildland they settled in into a community. And Ulrika from Västergöhl found love, happiness and above all respect in their new homeland. But Danjel and his sons, along with many others, were brutally killed during the Indian uprising, none of the emigrants ever got to see the family they left behind, Arvid died a horrible death on the California trail and Robert died in his early twenties, having found gold but been swindled, and the last time he and his brother were together Karl Oskar hit him. As for Karl Oskar himself, he lost his beloved Kristina some thirty years before his own death and never got over the loss.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Karl Oskar, frustrated by the heat and lack of rain which is ruining the crops for the second year in a row, tosses hay towards the sky and tells God that since he took last year's harvest he might as well take this too. A while later lightning strikes the old field house where they store the harvested hay... Kristina flat-out tells him that the lightning and subsequent fire was God's punishment.
  • Break the Cutie: Kristina.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Robert is the The Smart Guy of the main cast, but he also wants to avoid work. And even his search for gold is an attempt at becoming rich quickly, so he won't have to work again. However, being a Book Worm and not a sturdy farmer like Karl Oskar, Robert is merely trying to avoid any physical work. If he only had been allowed to continue his schooling and get an education, he would have excelled within that environment. But alas, his family is poor struggling farmers, so nobody seems to even see that as an option for him.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: In the fourth book, Karl Oskar and Kristina learn from the doctor that she will not survive another birth or miscarriage and have no reliable means of birth control other than not having sex at all.
  • Carcass Sleeping Bag: When Karl-Oskar and his son Johan are caught out in the open as a blizzard hits, the boy eventually collapses. Karl-Oskar saves Johan's life by slicing open the ox that was pulling their cart and stuffing Johan inside while he goes to get help.
  • Chaste Hero: Robert gets a budding romance with Elin, but it doesn't really go anywhere. And afterwards, he can't seem to get close to any other woman.
  • Contrived Coincidence: It seems just a bit too unlikely that on the same night as Kristina nearly bleeds to death from scurvy, Inga-Lena should die from that same disease.
  • Converting for Love:
    • Ulrika converts to Baptism in order to marry Pastor Jackson.
    • When Danjel believes himself to be enlightened and righteous, he tells his wife Inga-Lena they cannot have sex anymore since they are not married in the eyes of God when she is not enlightened. Eventually she basically pretends to have been "enlightened" also and to share his beliefs and they once again live as husband and wife.
  • Covert Pervert: Due to the morals of the time, Kristina won't be open about how much she enjoys sex with Karl Oskar (as it was thought women weren't supposed to enjoy sex, else they were harlots), but she frequently admits in her thoughts she does enjoy it very much.
  • Crisis of Faith: The devoted Kristina begins to doubt God's existence when it seems like he has not heard her prayer where she asked him not to bless her with child again. She becomes faithful again when she has a miscarriage, interpreting it as God's punishment. The moment where she questions her belief in God and begs Him to exist is the most famous song from the musical, both in Swedish and in English.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death:
    • Anna, a four-year-old girl, dies after having eaten too much porridge (following a prolonged period of near-starvation). The porridge swells inside her and ruptures parts of her digestive system. She dies in agony after a long night, and she dies believing that if only her parents would forgive her for eating the porridge the pain would go away.
    • Arvid on the California Trail. Lost in the desert, he drinks poisonous water and, much like Anna, is put through hours of agony as the poison slowly takes him.
  • Culture Clash: Ulrika sees the word "packet" inscribed on a wheelhouse on a steamer, which causes her to refuse to board because packet means rabble in Swedish, and Ulrika's done with being considered a lower class of person. The captain explains to her that the word actually stands for mail, which puts her at ease.
  • Daddy's Girl: Anna, Karl Oskar and Kristina's first child. She follows Karl Oskar around while he's at his work and Karl Oskar refers to her as his little helper. He's very deeply attached to her. It hits him all the harder when she dies at the tender age of four; he keeps her worn-out shoes as a memento to the point of taking them on the voyage to America.
  • Death by Childbirth: Kristina. Though it's a miscarriage that kills her, not a birth.
  • Determinator:
    • Ulrika. She's determined to get a better life for herself and determined not to let her daughter suffer because Ulrika used to be a prostitute.
    • The otherwise not so hard-working Robert in his quest for gold.
    • Danjel with his faith in the first book.
  • Dream Sequence: What happened to Arvid and Robert on the California trail is told through Robert's dreams.
  • Driven to Suicide: Implied with Anders Månsson, who disappears shortly after the death of his mother. His hat is found much later in a river and the other characters come to the conclusion that he drowned himself.
  • Dying Alone:
    • Robert runs off after fighting with Karl Oskar over bringing home worthless paper money and ends up dying all alone after a day or so of wandering aimlessly around the lake in a state of despondency.
    • Fina Kajsa dies in the potato field, trying to work on it while Anders is lying in bed drunk. Karl Oskar is the first to find the body hours later. Following this, Anders apparently drowns himself.
  • Ear Ache: Robert suffers from chronic pain in his ear after being hit by his master in Sweden.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Arvid is called the Bull at Nybacken after rumors spread that he's had sex with a cow.
  • Epilogue Letter: The story ends with the last letter home, written by a friend of the family to inform the relatives in Sweden about the death of Karl Oskar.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Karl Oskar is a very hard working, pragmatic man who values honor and honesty. Robert is a dreamer with a strong dislike of physical labor, who fantasizes about finding gold and never having to work another day in his life. He is imaginative, to the point where he often makes stories up or embellishes on events, without always giving much thought to how truthful he's being. It's lampshaded by various characters, including the brothers and Kristina, who wonders how two brothers can be so different.
  • Forbidden Friendship: Between Kristina and Ulrika, or rather it would have been back home in Sweden due to Ulrika being a former prostitute and Kristina an honourable women by the standards of their lutheran society. Kristina's neighbours in Minnesota very much consider their friendship forbidden, though they don't know about the prostitution - they pay a visit and try to demand that Kristina ends her friendship with Ulrika on account of the latter having converted to baptism. Kristina... refuses, to put it mildly.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Karl Oskar and Kristina only meet a few times over the course of about two years before he proposes to her. They do, however, spend a lot of time together while they are betrothed, including a lot of make-out sessions.
  • Friendship Moment: Kristina going absolutely livid at her neighbours when they try to talk her into cutting Ulrika out of her life. The neighbours tell her, among other things, to never let Ulrika into her house again, and when Kristina a few months later gives birth to a daughter she names her Ulrika - thereby showing them that there will always be an Ulrika in her house and family.
  • Funetik Aksent: Used heavily. Especially when characters begin to mix English with their Swedish.
  • Gag Nose: Both the narrator and other characters often take note of Karl Oskar's distinctly large nose, which is a trait passed down in his family that's thought to bring good luck and gives its bearer a number of good and bad personality traits; Karl Oskar's determination and always wanting to have his way are both attributed to his nose.
  • Give Me a Sign: Having gone through seven pregnancies Kristina does not feel she can handle an eighth, she prays to God to spare her and when she realizes she's with child again she begins to doubt that God really exists. She prays to God to give her a sign of his existence, and when she miscarries and nearly dies in the process, she takes it as Him giving her a sign as well as chastising her. The sequence when she prays to God for him to exist became a Show Stopper in the musical.
  • Gold Fever: Robert gets a dose of this.
  • Good Parents:
    • Karl Oskar and Kristina, who do their best to raise their eight children well, and with a lot of love.
    • Ulrika takes very good care of her bastard daughter Elin, who loves and respects her a lot in return even while knowing her occupation. The biggest reason Ulrika kept prostituting herself was so she had the money to raise and feed Elin properly.
  • Good Shepherd: Pastor Jackson and Pastor Törner.
  • Grave-Marking Scene: Karl Oskar frequently visits Kristina's grave.
  • Happily Married: Many of the couples in the books (though far from all), but Karl Oskar and Kristina especially.
  • Hen Pecked Husband: Jonas-Petter lives in terror of his wife, and moves to America just to escape her.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Robert and Arvid.
    • Danjel and Jonas Petter essentially share a household for quite some time and remain close friends and neighbours for the rest of their lives.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ulrika from Västergöhl. Kristina hates her at first for being a dirty prostitute who went off the straight and narrow but during their journey across America she begins to see the kindness and warmth in Ulrika. The two end up becoming best friends.
  • Hope Spot: After his return from California, Robert finds a job he likes, working as a journalist and assistant editor at a Swedish-language newspaper. He dies of yellow fever less than a month later.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: What Robert's illness seems like when he returns to the Nilsson settlement. He is said to have died of Yellow Fever.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Averted. Early in her marriage Kristina gave birth to fraternal twins, a girl and a boy. The girl, Märta, survived but the boy did not, dying after a week of life. A few years later they lose their first-born, Anna, in a horrifying manner. Danjel's baby daughter Eva dies on the steamboat on the Mississippi, presumably from cholera. And out of the four children Ulrika gave birth to in Sweden only Elin survived infancy.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Landberg thinks Chicago is a cesspool that'll eventually become "entirely depopulated and obliterated from the face of the earth". That's his opinion of the city that has become one of the most important and populated in all the USA.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: It is hard to see Vicar Brusander as anything but a pompous Well-Intentioned Extremist for his prosecution of Danjel's religious movement, but he still makes a few good points in his speech to Karl Oskar against emigration. Many people back then did leave Europe for America to escape the laws of their native countries, or only because they heard fanciful stories about how much better everything was over there. And how exactly would Europe survive, if all young people went to America and left their old parents at home?
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Captain Lorentz of the brig Charlotta that Karl Oskar and co. board to migrate. He has a rather low opinion of peasants in general and bemoans the problems of having to carry many people on a long voyage over the ocean, but deep down he worries about their well-being and does what he can when they need help.
  • The Lost Lenore: Karl Oskar never re-marries and never gets over the death of Kristina in the latter half of book four.
  • Mama Bear: Ulrika.
  • Meaningful Name: Kristina gives the name Ulrika to her youngest daughter, to show her stuck-up, self-righteous neighbours that Ulrika will always be a part of her family, and there will always be an Ulrika in her home. Considering the social norms of the home they left behind in Sweden, and the way Kristina and Ulrika from Västergöhl felt about each other when the journey began, one can only imagine how much this must have meant to baby Ulrika's namesake.
  • The Modest Orgasm: While Kristina very much enjoys her sex life, she doesn't feel it's proper to let Karl Oskar know just how much.
  • Moral Guardians: Karl Oskar and Kristina's new neighbors, who are deeply troubled by Kristina's close friendship to Ulrika, a woman who left the Swedish Lutheran Church and converted to Baptism.
  • Mundane Luxury: Karl Oskar complains about the meagre amount of tools he could bring to America. Anders Månsson points out that he has three axe-heads, which makes him a wealthy man by frontier standards, and claims that many men showed up owning no tools beyond a belt knife and a half-share of an axe.
  • Nay-Theist: Karl Oskar arguably becomes one after Kristina's death.
    Karl Oskar: I know I'm a helpless creature before the Almighty. You can do with me what you wish. But never, never will I say that it is just.
  • Never Found the Body: All they found of Anders Månsson after he presumably drowned himself was a hat.
  • No Pregger Sex: Surprisingly averted. Kristina is pregnant with her fifth child when they emigrate and she laments being surrounded by other people at all times during her pregnancy since this is usually the only time she can relax and fully enjoy sex (not having to worry about getting pregnant when she already is pregnant).
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Ulrika and Kristina both lampshade the fact that if they had stayed in Sweden, a friendship between them would have been unthinkable. They hate each other in the first book, Kristina being a devout Protestant who believes Ulrika to be a whore with whom she shouldn't socialize, and Ulrika feeling that Kristina is stuck-up and has a holier-than-thou attitude. During the journey a strong, unbreakable friendship forms between the two women, but Kristina knows that none of her family and friends back in Sweden would understand or accept the friendship between them. This doesn't hinder their friendship in the slightest, luckily.
    • Danjel is a born-again Christian, deeply devout and with an intellectual bent. Jonas-Petter is a rough-and-tumble type whose great delights in life are lewd jokes (the filthier the better) and chewing tobacco. The two are thick as thieves and share a household for a long period after emigration, and when Jonas-Petter finally moves out, he settles as close to Danjel's plot as he can.
    • Robert is the Book Worm of the group; Arvid is hardly able to read at all. But they still are best friends.
  • Odd Name Out:
    • Moberg originally wrote it as a trilogy but his editors decided the third book was too long and split it up into two. Therefore the naming pattern of the first three books is broken and we have The Emigrants, The Immigrants, The Settlers and The Last Letter to Sweden.
    • Karl Oskar and Kristina's youngest child is given an American name - Frank. His siblings all have Swedish names, though as they grow older the English speaking people in the community begin to call some of them by more Americanized versions of their names. Johan becomes John, Märta becomes Mary (why she isn't called Martha is anyone's guess), Danjel is soon shortened to Dan...
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: In-story; Kristina berates Karl Oskar for gradually inserting more and more English words and idioms into his Swedish.
  • Orphan's Ordeal: Ulrika was orphaned at four and sold at an auction.note 
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Karl Oskar and Kristina have to bury two children - Märta's twin brother, who died only a week after birth, and Anna, their firstborn child, who died in agony after overeating porridge.
    • Ulrika bore four children in Sweden. Only Elin survived. Ulrika chooses to see it as a blessing that God brought home the other three and spared them a life in poverty and the stigma of being a whore's child.
    • Danjel's baby daughter Eva dies, most likely of cholera, on the river boat. In the final novel he also has to see his sons murdered by Native Americans during the Sioux Uprising of 1862. He only outlives them by a few moments, however, as he himself is killed next.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Kristina and Karl Oskar lose one child to starvation and almost lose another when she walks off in a crowdnote . They also come close to losing a son in a snowstorm.
  • Overcome Their Differences: Kristina and Ulrika. When they leave Sweden, they are bitter enemies. By the time they settle down in Minnesota, they have overcome their differences and become best friends.
  • Papa Bear: Karl Oskar. At one point he even slaughters his highly valuable oxen in order to put his son Johan inside the carcass during a blizzard, and thereby save him from freezing to death.
  • Parting-Words Regret: The last time the Nilsson brothers are together, Karl Oskar slaps Robert quite hard across the face. He immediately begs for forgiveness, and is granted it more or less, but it's still something that haunts him for a long time after.
  • The Pioneer: Karl Oskar.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Karl Oskar to Kristina, twice.
  • The Promised Land: As it often was in those days, America is treated as a near-mythical promised land for the poor and outcast. They do indeed find their promised land, but the price is very high, and Kristina never stops longing for her home in Sweden...
  • Rape as Backstory: Ulrika was raped by her foster father at the age of fourteen, with his logic being that she should start paying back for the care she's been given in the "only" way she can. That's why she became a prostitute.
  • Running Gag: Jonas Petter loves to tell stories, the dirtier the better, but there is one he never seems to get to tell, a story about a farmer who paid a soldier to produce an heir for him. He starts telling the story countless times over several years and doesn't get to actually tell it until the later half of the last book.
  • Satellite Character: Jonas Petter, who was Adapted Out from the musical. Starting halfway through the second book Danjel Andreasson also becomes one.
  • Self-Made Man: Upon arriving in Minnesota, Karl Oskar literally has nothing but the things he brought in the America Chest. His family spends the first weeks living in what could generously be called a shanty, followed by a few years in a tiny log cabin. But in time, and through hard and incessant labor, he creates a large, prosperous farm that can with ease support him, his six living children and Johan's growing family. Much of Karl Oskar's drive and motivation is that he believes in people prospering through their own labor, but back home in Sweden he never had the resources to make his farm grow and prosper, no matter how much hard work he invested into it.
  • Settling the Frontier: Claiming new land and building a new life in the wilds of Minnesota.
  • Sexless Marriage:
    • Danjel and Inga Lena for a while after he believes he has become righteous. Not until she too says she's been reborn in Christ does he agree to have sex with her again.
    • Kristina and Karl Oskar when they learn another pregnancy would kill her. They go back to having sex, only to have Kristina get pregnant again and die from a miscarriage.
  • Shipper on Deck: Kristina for Ulrika and Henry.
  • Ship Tease: Robert and Elin show a lot of interest in each other, much to Ulrika's dismay. However, they have a falling out early on in The Immigrants and Robert soon leaves the others and heads off to California.
  • Shown Their Work: Moberg spent a lot of time researching the places where his emigrants would travel and eventually settle. It definitely shows in the text.
  • Sleep Cute: Elin falls asleep on Robert's shoulder while the group is traveling to Karlshamn. Robert is pretty flustered until he falls asleep himself. Jonas Petter, who's riding with them, doesn't have the heart to wake them up.
  • Smelly Skunk: Karl Oskar and Kristina's son Johan catches a skunk and tries presenting it to Kristina thinking it's a cat. They don't know what it actually is since skunks are new world animals, until they get a nasty surprise when it sprays and stinks up the whole shanty.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Karl Oskar is angry over how the drought is ruining their crops when the previous year too much rain ruined them. He takes a handful of hay and throws it to the sky, telling God to take it all while he's at it. Then thunder strikes their barn and what little they had been able to harvest is lost.
  • The Storyteller: Jonas Petter loves telling lewd stories, usually about men suffering at the hands of women. Some chapters are wholly dedicated to a tale of his.
  • Survivor Guilt: Robert following the death of Arvid on the California trail.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Kristina loves to sit on her swing. She and Karl Oskar first met while she was recuperating after having fallen off her swing and hurt her knee.
  • Thirsty Desert: Arvid and Robert experience this.
  • Tragic Bromance: Arvid and Robert.
  • Tragic Hero: Many of the characters get a tragic ending, but still, Robert is the one out of the group who seems to never be allowed to catch any breaks. He is the Book Worm and "dreamer" of the main cast, who never was able to fit in with all the sturdy hard-working farmers around him. And from a modern point of view, the best thing would have been to just send him to school somewhere to get an education. But alas, his family is struggling farmers in the mid-19th century, so nobody seems to even consider helping him becoming anything but a farmhand. And to add to all of the misery, his master is a nasty sadist. It is during this hard time that Robert is introduced to his only friend Arvid, but otherwise, his life at this point is just like a nightmare. He decides to run away from his cruel master, and he plans to follow Karl Oskar to America, but not even leaving Sweden means that things become better for Robert. His romance with Elin is cut short before it even goes anywhere, and he never seems to be able to get near another girl. He sets out to find gold, but ends up watching Arvid's painful death and losing the gold he did find. And just a short while after he's back to Karl Oskar's new farm, he is found ill and dies from yellow fever. And he's only in his early 20s at his death, because he was from the "wrong" social class to be what he really was at heart: an intellectual, who could have had a career within any field of his choosing with the right education. But it was never meant to be...
  • Tragic Keepsake: Robert keeping Arvid's watch after the latter dies.
  • True Companions: The group from Ljuder become this in the second book, eventually pooling their food and functioning as one household. Once they settle they live apart from one another but remain close for the duration of their lives.
  • Undignified Death: Fina Kajsa dies out in the potato field, and when Karl Oskar finds her it's suggested that the body has been lying there for some time.
  • Unwanted Spouse: Brita-Stafva, Jonas Petter's wife. To the point where the only reason he emigrates is to get away from her.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Vicar Brusander. He's a very difficult character to like from a modern point of view, when he masterminds a prosecution of Danjel's harmless religious movement, but at this point in Swedish history, dissenting from the established Lutheran church is still against the law. And the vicar hardly is the only person in the parish who has become suspicious of what Danjel might be up to. Furthermore, it seems like the vicar also thinks that punishing Danjel and his followers is for the best of the people. His belief is that if everybody could choose their own faith, society would be plunged into chaos. So even though the story naturally puts most of the sympathy with the dissenters, Vicar Brusander is still portrayed as this trope rather than a one-dimensional villain.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: The boxing Robert takes to the ear ends up paining him for the rest of his life.
  • You Can't Go Home Again:
    • Kristina points out to Karl Oskar before they move that if they emigrate they will never get to see their home parish again, nor their friends and family. In America Kristina is terribly homesick and it doesn't get better that she knows she can never return to where she feels her real home is.
    • Karl-Oskar, for most of his life in America, is a happy settler. When he grows old, though (and is widowed and also unable to work after an accident) he manages to get his hands on a map of his old Swedish socken (approximately parish). He spends his idle and lonely hours tracing out the paths he used to walk there in his youth.

The 1971 film The Emigrants also provides examples of:

  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Subverted. Kristina, Karl Oskar and Robert are all played by very attractive people but Robert is often covered in dirt, and the hard lives they lead leave distinct marks upon them. When Kristina is on her death bed she is still in her thirties, but looks closer to fifty. Karl Oskar looks quite worn and torn, as well.
  • The Big Guy: Karl Oskar, played by 1.94 meters (roughly 6 foot 5 inches) Max von Sydow.
  • Ear Ache: Robert suffers from chronic pain in his ear and tinnitus, having been boxed over the ear by his master at Nybacken.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Robert and Arvid.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The characters are from Småland in Sweden, an area with several distinctive accents. Director Jan Troell left it up to the actors to decide if they wanted to use accent or not. Some did and some didn't. Liv Ullman makes a good attempt, but her natural Norwegian shines through on occasion.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: For some international audiences, the scenes taking place during Swedish summer nights, such as Arvid and Robert wrestling over the axe, seem like a case of Special Effect Failure due the lighting seeming like its dusk. However, summer nights in Sweden are very bright, and even though Småland is far south of the midnight sun there's only a few short hours of actual darkness. The rest of the night is more a prolonged dusk/dawn.
  • Scenery Porn

The Musical provides examples of:

  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Interestingly enough not by way of adapting the books into musical but by the musical itself being shortened for the 2015 production. The show has a running time of roughly four hours after having been trimmed down so you understand why they chose to cut some parts out. However the parts they cut sometimes cause leaps in the story. For instance with the song "Ljusa kvällar om våren" ("Bright Spring Evenings") they cut Kristina's second verse in which she begs God to bring her back to Sweden. Then Karl Oskar tells her that if she wants God to move her back to Sweden he will reach out his hand and keep her with him, prompting Kristina to reply: "So you heard what I prayed for?". Even though she no longer prayed for that.
  • Adapted Out: Jonas Petter is absent in the musical. As are Fina Kajsa's husband and son, but they are minor characters.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The songs A Sunday in Battery Park and To Think That Men Like Him Can Exist in the Swedish.
  • BSoD Song: You Have To Be There.
  • Character Title: The musical puts its main focus on Kristina.
  • Dark Reprise: The reprise of Down to the Sea.
  • Death by Adaptation: Fina Kajsa's husband and son are both dead in the musical, whereas in the novel her husband dies on the journey across the Atlantic, and her son dies more than a decade after the group arrive in Minnesota.
  • Death by Childbirth: How it ends. Except it's a miscarriage not a birth.
  • Death Song: Robert gets one, as does Kristina.
  • Determinator: Ulrika in her song Never.
  • Epic Rocking: You Have To Be There. Written at the last minute when Benny Andersson felt they needed one more song and it became one of the two biggest hits from the show. It's the song Kristina sings when she begins to doubt that God even exists, having spent her entire life relying on God to pull her through. The most poignant line from the original, "You must exist, you must, so how can you then abandon me?" sadly does not make it to the English version. The song does an amazing job of describing what faith means to those who believe, especially considering that Björn Ulvaeus who wrote the lyrics is an atheist.
  • Grief Song: Gold Can Turn To Sand.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: Overlords, or Emperors and Kings as it's called in the English translation.
  • "I Want" Song: Down to the Sea.
  • Lost in Translation: Unfortunately, most of the beauty and magic of the Swedish original.
  • Meaningful Name: Kristina from Duvemåla. Kristina was born on Duvemåla farm so the title can refer to where she was originally from. Karl Oskar names their home in America New Duvemåla to make her feel more at home, so it can also refer to where she ended up living. Either way it's an interesting choice of title since the book mostly talks about Korpamoen, Karl Oskar's home farm where they live when they get married. Their new home is rarely mentioned by name.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The musical has an entire song devoted to a stove, hailing it as "a blessing from the Angel of Christmas".
  • Overcome Their Differences: Kristina and Ulrika have a song about it.
  • Shown Their Work: A surprising amount of the original song lyrics feature direct, or very nearly so, quotes from Moberg's text. Things have been moved around here and there, but if you know the songs of the musical by heart you'll recognize a fair amount when you then read the books in their original language. Björn Ulvaeus truly outdid himself.
  • Swing Low, Sweet Harriet: Opens with Kristina on her swing. When the show ends her swing is lowered down on stage while Karl Oskar cries over her dead body.