The Difficult Life Of The 19th Century Scandinavian

1856 words - 7 pages

In the present day, Scandinavian countries are generally viewed as prosperous, progressive, and egalitarian societies. The citizens of these nations are largely urbanized and receive significant social assistance from the welfare state. However, life in 19th century Scandinavia was markedly different. Scandinavian social life in the 1800s was defined by its provincial character, as the majority of inhabitants resided in rural agricultural communities. Society as a whole was heavily stratified: women had very limited social and economic opportunities and poverty was widespread among Scandinavia’s common citizens. Thus, life in 19th century Scandinavia was generally difficult, and this fact is revealed in the books and films that chronicle social life during this time period.
Though Scandinavian nations are currently considered to be some of the most equitable countries in the world, 19th century Scandinavian societies were characterized by rigid social hierarchies. As Nordstrom depicts in his history of Scandinavia, those who lived during this time period rarely advanced beyond the social and economic positions that they were born into (Nordstrom, 2000: 166). Vilhelm Moberg’s novel The Emigrants further illustrates this point through its portrayal of a rural Swedish parish in the mid 1800s. Moberg describes how generation after generation within a single family labored as farmers on the same land. He suggests that this pattern persisted for centuries, only to be disrupted by the mass migrations that took place in the middle of the 19th century (Moberg, 1949: xxvii). The information presented in Nordstrom’s book echoes the localized and provincial nature of Scandinavian villages described by Moberg. Before the technological advances that were achieved in the latter part of the century, geography and limited communications ensured that these agrarian communities remained largely self-contained (Nordstrom, 2000: 240). Accordingly, the insular character of these agricultural societies and the limited opportunities for upward mobility ensured that the social structure would be reproduced across many generations.
Throughout most of the century, nobles and royalty dominated economic and political institutions. The majority of citizens, meanwhile, lived far more difficult lives in rural farming communities. In fact, 85% of Scandinavians during this time made their living primarily from agriculture (Nordstrom, 2000: 167). While some social, economic, and political progress was made during this century, many citizens struggled to survive under the harsh conditions of agrarian life. Pelle the Conqueror, a 1987 Danish film, presents the struggles of a Swedish immigrant and his son who seek a better life by working on a farm in Denmark. The film portrays the extreme contrasts between the farm laborers and those who own the land, disparities that demonstrate the highly stratified nature of Scandinavian society at that time. The owners of the...

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