Burial Rites

The Societal Constraints And The Development Of Individuals in Burial Rites And Year Of Wonders

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Both texts explore the causal effects and relationship between individuals’ agency and their respective societal constraints by focusing on the oppressive social norms and the character development of individuals produced from the vicissitudes that emerge from their condemning, judgmental societies. In order to challenge the ubiquitous social structures, both Kent and Brooks invite readers to consider how the oppressive experiences that individuals’ undergo force themselves to consider their own choices in order to subvert traditional values.

Individuals gaining strength through the means of enforced power stemming from traditional, patriarchal stability and security influences one’s choices to either conform to their societal norms or resist being manipulated by an intolerant community.

Burial Rites

Kent explores how patriarchal values diminish the worth of women’s experiences, identity and autonomy, and how resisting these gender roles causes women to be condemned by society. Through the characterisation of Sigga being “too young and sweet to die”, Kent is able to portray a misogynistic society that favours those who fit an ideal female character – a woman that complies with the intentions of men. She presents connotations of fragility and subservience that implies that those who challenge authority and society’s expectations will be criticised, but those who are “dumb and pretty and young” are supported and will gain public sympathy. The protagonist, Agnes, is mistreated purely because of her own intellect and her curiosity of life outside of the strict boundaries of society. When Agnes mimics the patronising and derogatory judges’ tone when she states “a thinking woman can’t be trusted”, she conveys her own self-awareness to the humiliation and ostracisation she is subject to by society. Her cynical tone critiques her condemning society and expresses her own experience of public denunciation by those who wish to diminish the value of women’s identity and autonomy. This willingness to vocalise her denunciations portrays how the judgmental and oppressive nature of her society has increased her resilient character and taught her to value her own intellect and independence. In this way, Kent criticises the brutal patriarchal society of Iceland where women are valued differently based on how well they conform to these gendered expectations.

Year of Wonders

Similar to Kent’s commentary on the effect of patriarchal values, in Year of Wonders, Brooks explores how oppressive social structures based on puritanical and religious ideals can detrimentally affect an individual’s connection to society. The repetition in Anna Frith’s statement “Dark and light, dark and light…that was how I had been taught to view the world”, places emphasis on the dichotomous view of the world she had been influenced to believe. By depicting a society that only values right and wrong, Brooks investigates the belief of absolute morality and how this view devalues those who are struggling with their personal view on ethics. The diction of Anna when referring to Anys Gowdie stating “her fornication and her blasphemy branded her a sinner in the reckoning of our religions” connotes ideas of condemnation and degradation. Brooks suggests that the inherent systematic prejudices and ignorance of the justice system continually fails to exercise true justice for its participants, thereby condemning the confidence of individuals in the moral quality and authority of the power structures in society. The assertive tone of Kate when she states “because that which I do believe has failed me” conveys how individuals begin to seek alternative ideologies as the solutions to their problems within society and their losses as a result of the flaws of their own society are revealed. Thus, Brooks explores the fundamentally divulsive effect of societal structures, as individuals no longer adhere to a uniform of values. Instead, Brooks challenges the narrow-minded obsession with purity and opens the protagonists up to a larger world that enlightens them to unconventional beliefs and traditions within faith.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent: Life of a Condemned Woman

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Set against the bleak Icelandic landscape, Kent’s “Burial Rites” explores the life of condemned women, Agnes Magnusdottir. By allowing Agnes to have a voice – readers are able to understand her death as a product of not only her own choices but the society in which she lived in. A society in which powerful men with status are favoured and prejudice is pervasive. Thus, Kent seeks to shed light on how Agnes’s death sentence cannot be blamed on Agnes herself but is also due to her unforgiving society that punishes those who are underprivileged.

Agnes’s passionate love for Natan blinds her from any sense of reason and logic which leads to make foolish decisions that contribute to her death. By depicting passion and lust as both empowering and disempowering emotions, Kent conveys love as a double – edged sword. Although Agnes initially finds a sense of worthiness because of Natan’s attention towards her, she later expresses her love as a “hunger so deep, so capable of driving [her] into the night”, thus highlighting how her love for Natan has completely enveloped all her senses, making her incapable in forming the right decisions. Time and time again, Agnes forgives Natan or chooses not to face up to his deceitful and manipulative ways. When Natan lies to Agnes that she would be “housemistress” and yet “there was Sigga”, Agnes chooses to believe his words that indeed “[he] would not lie to [her]”. Further, when Natan purposely sleeps with Sigga in the presence of Agnes, she experiences great grief and sorrow – “rage flooded through [her]” and she “screwed [her] fingernails into the flesh of [her] arm” highlights how Agnes is willing to self-inflict pain and torment herself for such a man. Perhaps if Agnes was not so caught up in her love with Natan and realised that indeed Natan is conniving and duplicitous in nature, she would have made the reasonable decision to leave him, thus changing her fate. Agnes’s attempt to forgive Natan for sleeping with Sigga further emphasies her malicious and unhealthy love for him, as she is depicted as a desperate woman unable to see the danger that lies ahead of her. Thus, it is through the many moments in which Agnes commits herself again and again to Natan despite his mistreatments of her that exemplifies how Agnes’s overwhelming love for him leads her to making the wrong choices which ultimately leads her to her own death. Therefore, although to some extent, Kent shows Agnes to have authored her own choices, by highlighting the toxic nature of gossip in society Kent is able to create a more ambiguous character doomed by more than just her decisions and authorship.

The deeply prejudiced society that is quick to stereotype Agnes contributes to her impending death as she is seen as the unequivocally evil woman. By highlighting the toxicity of such a society and the consequences they bring to people, Kent condemns Agnes’s society for falsely characterising her and others in general. Agnes claims that “how other people think of you determine(s) who you are.” This highlights the preconceptions of society and how Agnes herself has become a victim of it. That people will see a “witch caught in the web of her own fateful weaving” and not her, further reveals how society’s branding of Agnes as a “murderess”, has restricted her from proving people wrong. This is because in the eyes of everybody else she is already a dead woman. Further, Kent implements historical documents all throughout her novel to reinforce how history has defined Agnes as “condemned”, as someone who “stabbed and thrashed” her victims and not someone who committed a mercy kill. The use of primary sources further emphasises how society and historical documents display the absolute truth, supposedly. By doing so, it leaves Agnes no chance in providing an alternative story, leaving a tunnel visioned view that she committed the crime out of evil nature and thus everyone driving Agnes to her death, thinking that the death penalty is a suitable punishment. It is Agnes’s inability to transcend the malicious nature of her society that she is unable to prove herself to be more than just a “murderess”, besides the Jonsson family and Toti, thereby leading society to endorse the view that Agnes should be fated to die.

Agnes’s patriarchal society strips Agnes of her voice and ultimately forces her to her own death. Kent demonstrates the over-arching patriarchal society that punishes the underprivileged through her characterisation of Blondal. During the trial, Agnes claims “they [Blondal and other male officials] plucked at [her] words like birds” suggesting Agnes’s oppression in such a society. Further, Blondal’s adamant stance on executing Agnes lies in his underlying desire to prove his power and competence as an “opportunity for [his] community to witness the consequences for a grave misdemeanour.” That Sigga is pardoned, yet Agnes is condemned further illustrates the power of men such as Blondal and how Agnes is unable to escape her predicament, as she is no match for a society where males with status are on top of the pyramid. When Blondal recounts the murder to Toti, he repeatedly uses the phrase “I am of the opinion” whilst portraying Agnes as the master mind who manipulated Sigga and Fridrick into the murders of Natan and Petur. Here, the word “opinion” connotes a sense that Blondal himself is unsure of the facts however it is his word that is law – thus Agnes is unable to escape Blondal’s authority and condemnation of her to death. By portraying Blondal as a man so vested in his power and authority, Kent condemns the patriarchal society and highlights the tenuous grip that Agnes has over her own life.

In essence, whilst Kent allows Agnes to have moments to author her own fate, it is ultimately a combination of her society as well as her unrelenting passion and love for Natan that leads her to her own execution. By depicting Agnes’s death being a consequence of both her emotions and society, Kent successfully encapsulates the ambiguous nature of Agnes. Yet by highlighting the devastating effects of such a male dominated and prejudiced society, Kent ultimately disapproves of such a society as being disempowering and unjust.

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Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Agnes Magnusdottir’s Final Months

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

The inclusion of Agnes’ first person narration positions us to feel more sympathy for her.’ To what extent do you agree?

Hannah Kent’s speculative biography ‘Burial Rites’, tells the tragic story behind Agnes Magnusdottir’s final months of life. Throughout her novel, Kent presents a critical analysis of the patriarchal society of the 19th century Iceland which harshly judges and condemns those who are on the margins of life. As Kent masterfully entwines first and third person narratives, she portrays the ambiguous crime of one on the margins and asks readers to understand its ambivalence, in particular the objective truth behind the murder of Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonson.

Agnes’ yearning for love and acceptance, stemming from a life of abandonment and loss, fully exposes her to manipulation. Born an illegitimate child into a frigid world of cruel poverty, Agnes never truly experienced what love was. This made her highly susceptible to the false belief that any form of slight kindness would lead to an everlasting bond, hence the ambivalent and emotionally damaging relationship with Natan. Naked and cast out, Agnes becomes a victim of Natan’s paranoia. She is also a victim of the rivalry between Natan, Sigga and Fridrick. Naïve and unprepared, Agnes is completely disempowered and is unable to escape her extreme degradation. We are told that Natan is drawn to her because of her friendliness in the world. “He liked the fact that I was a bastard, a pauper, a servant”. He believes that she has become more resilient, having to fight for everything, but at the same time she becomes more vulnerable and easier to manipulate. Through Agnes’ narration, readers are exposed her first-hand experience, bringing us to the realisation that Natan “toys” with people, garnering a feeling of disgust and shame towards his character. Kent skilfully presents to us how Agnes’ lack of nurturing easily leads to her being duped into Natan’s psychological trap.

Agnes’ status as a woman in the patriarchal society of the 19th century Iceland strips her of her power and freedom, making her a victim of double standards and abuse. Kent highlights to readers that in this time period, men held absolute authority while women were confined to low-grade work and raising children. The patriarchal society condemns female promiscuity, labelling Agnes as a “whore” with “loose skirts”. Moreover, Agnes is subjected to additional oppression as her ambition and thirst for knowledge is considered “vulgar for a girl”. Her society did not look favourable upon women who deviated from their conventional roles as an obedient wife or daughter, leading to the commonly held belief that Agnes was a “bastard pauper with a conniving spirit” Kent censures the harsh judgemental view of women as the difference which stands at the core of the text. She invites us to sympathise with Agnes and see complexity rather than simplicity; to see hardship and to understand the reasons for her exclusion. She invites us also to censure the officials, the Commissioner, undermining their integrity by the suggestion that they are corrupt and biased towards Sigga.

Through Toti and Margret’s penetration of Agnes’ personal barriers, readers are exposed to a more distinct side of the story as Agnes herself unfolds the events of the murder. Kent’s use of first person narration highlights Agnes’ tragic past and the various struggles she has had to overcome, thereby encouraging readers to reject the view of her as a criminal and a murderess as inaccurate. That is, the poignant descriptions of Agnes’ constant contest with the harshness of her society make readers more susceptible to Kent’s portrayal of the murders at Illugastadir from Agnes’ point of view, as it encourages them to feel sympathetic towards her. Kent’s “stream of consciousness” style writing embodies her use of emotive and striking imagery to emphasise Agnes as being “run through and through with disaster”. When Agnes tells Toti and Margret her story, it feels like as if she is also speaking to the readers, and as a result, the rushed and panicked style of Kent’s writing is to invoke empathy in the readers, thereby making them more likely to feel as though the death sentence was an unfair punishment, considering what is revealed through Agnes’ recollections of the events at Illugastadir. She admits at the end to Margret that she does, in fact, cast the final blow in Natan’s murder, but only to prevent him from further suffering. Furthermore, readers are encouraged to believe this version of the events rather than the officials’ retelling as the first-person narration gives readers a sense that they are receiving a more accurate account of the events, given that Agnes personally experienced them. As a result, they are prompted to question the commonly held belief that Agnes is a witch and murderer, as it may not be an accurate portrayal of who she is.

Contrastingly, Kent’s use of third-person narrative exposes readers the omniscient point of view rather than just from Agnes’ perspective. It is never made clear whether or not Agnes is telling the absolute truth, but readers can only be made to assume that her story is more complex and subjective than that of the stereotypical belief. The author presents the opinion that the State and government officials’ demonising of Agnes based upon her status as a woman is biased and unfair, and suggests that this approach leads to unreasonable judgement of individuals. She exemplifies this through the intransigence of District Commissioner Blondal. His letters which outline his position on the Illugastadir are presented with the intentions “to execute the Illugastadir murderes” ,highlighting that Agnes was doomed to execution from the start. The officials were highly unlikely to change their position to take into consideration the mercy aspect of the crime. There is never a single side to the story, which the multiple narration all adds to the ambiguous elements to the novel, and hence may cause divided opinions and feelings about Agnes.

Kent, through her personalised portrayal of the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, demonstrates to her readers that there is more to the story than the eye can see. Therefore, the use of Agnes’ first-person narration heavily impacted upon the reader interpretation, drawing sympathetic views on the more deep emotional level of the crime.

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Burial Rites and Rituals Devoted to Kings in Jewish Religion

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Jewish religion and culture has many beliefs concerning the burial of the deceased and the grieving process which follows death. My intent is to learn the rites and rituals following death for both the deceased and the surviving kin. Today, I’ll be talking about the Jewish time cycle of response to loss, or the traditional manner in which the culture grieves. The formal structure of Jewish grief can be broken down into five time periods – the Aninut, Shiva, Shloshim, Shanah, and Thereafter.

Aninut occurs preferably a day or less before the burial and is considered a precursor to the official start of mourning. This period is defined by the requirement to give the deceased a quick and respectful burial and this time is marked from the time of death to the time of burial. The mourners are excused from all religious duties, save giving the deceased a proper burial. Genesis 3:19 states “unto dust you shall return”, and this is the structure which the practice of placing the body directly into the ground as soon as possible is based upon.

The term Shiva refers to the week of mourning which takes place after the burial. During this week, the mourners are given time to come to terms with their loss and to assimilate to the idea that their loved one is gone. The community of the mourners offers emotional and physical support by bringing food and sitting with the family. The change in the rhythm of life signifies the change that has occurred. Prayers are said and scriptures are recited at the Shiva home, while stories and memories are shared by the family and the community to memorialize the deceased.

Shloshim and Shanah gives a set of time frames, duties, and modes of changes in behavior that respect the deceased but help the living to return to their regular life activities. These periods of mourning, roughly the month and the year post-burial, encompasses the “firsts” that the mourners will have to go through without their loved one. The purpose of Shloshim and Shanah is to help the mourners to accept their pain and to rejoin their community and work lives.

Every year at the Yahrzeit, or Anniversary of Death, the community of the deceased devote prayers and ceremonies in memory of the deceased. The day allows space for the continuation of remembering the deceased and reworking how life without them operates. The same scriptures and prayers which are recited during Shiva are said during Yahrzeit. In addition to each family observing Yahrzeit for each of their passed loved ones, the Yizkor service is recited during major holidays, such as Yom Kippur and Passover, for the community to remember all who have passed together.

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Burial Rites Setting, Character And The Theme Of Turmoil

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

Hannah Kent’s novel Burial Rites explores how the turbulent setting of 19th century Iceland in turn reflects the turmoil experienced by key characters in the narrative to a large extent. Kent’s juxtaposition of brutal, frosty winters with bountiful, brilliant summers and springs alongside foreboding, dubious autumns represents the dynamic and ever-changing agitation and tumult that characters such as Reverend Toti and Margret undergo through their interaction with Agnes Magnusdottir, a criminal convicted of murder. Agnes’ inner turmoil too is reflected in setting. The rustic yet callous Icelandic environment deeply mirrors Reverend Toti’s confusion and uncertainty as he matures from a young, naïve boy into a true man of honour.

Initially, when Toti sets out to meet Agnes at Kornsa, he feels confident and is determined to save Agnes. The setting around him is pleasant, as “the clouds began to clear” and the “soft red light of the late Jun sun flooded the pass.” Kent’s lyrical description of the weather emulates Toti’s buoyant emotional state, which is one of courage and certainty. In contrast, when he leaves Kornsa, discourages from and disappointed with his meeting with Agnes, “rain began to fall and the gale grew stronger”, with the light “fast disappearing”. The fierce gale, coupled with the disappearance of light, seems to mock Toti’s earlier confidence of meeting Agnes. The second stage of Toti’s transformation against setting is his meeting with District Commissioner Blondal. At this point, Toti has created a meaningful connection with Agnes and is slowly maturing, a connection of amity. As Toti is exposed to a portrayal of Agnes full of malice and rancour from Blondal, Toti is momentarily disarmed. As he leaves Blondal’s office and steps outside, the landscape has grown “cloudy and dim”, like Toti’s perception of Agnes. Toti confirms that the landscape too is “sympathetic to his confusion”. Kent here reiterates Toti’s disturbance at a different display of Agnes and his disorientation as to whether to continue to support Agnes. Towards the end of Agnes’ life, Toti’s metamorphosis is completed on a bitterly cold January day.

Toti, ill with fever, receives word that Agnes will die in six days’ time. Determined, he dresses himself and refutes his father’s pleas for sanity, as it is “snowing outside”. Reverend Jon urges his son not to kill himself for “the sake of this murderess”, as the “cold will kill you”. Toti, however, stands up to his father, as Kent shows the final transformation of Toti into a young man, who knows his duty and need to be with Agnes. Agnes’ turmoil is echoed through the strong superstition she carries against the backdrop of the forceful Lutheran Church. Agnes’ search for love and warmth in her otherwise bleak life often results in her turning away from the Church. This is because of her illegitimacy, which is deemed sinful, wrong and consequently attracts stigma. Agnes’ life is rooted in superstition, stemming from her early abandonment as a child, seen in Agnes’ startling reverence for ravens, “Cruel birds, ravens, but wise.” Agnes shuns religion in favour of superstition and sagas, “I prefer a story to a prayer”, since it provides comfort and contentment that religion could never give her and believes she doesn’t deserve.

However, Agnes’ reclusion from religion and society serves to decrease her reputation in the North Icelandic community. To combat this, Agnes goes to church with her fellow farmhands and work maids. However, this is only done for Agnes’ need to be “part of something” and churchgoing causes her to feel “pure”. Margret, mistress of Kornsa, also experiences uncertainty through her relationship with Agnes. When Agnes first arrives at Kornsa, Margret is angry and sceptical towards Agnes and her upcoming stay. The “bare” environment seen at Kornsa mirrors Margret’s attitude to Agnes, bare and lacking warmth and welcome. However, on the day of Agnes’ execution, Margret transforms fully. Kent paints a scene buoyant with grief and loss at Agnes’ approaching death with clouds that “hang like dead bodies”. Against this setting, Margret weeps with emotion and agitation at Agnes’ departure and repeats the words, “my girl. My girl”, cementing the connection between them, that of mother and daughter. This scene also represents Margret’s journey from narrow-minded darkness into understanding and ultimately true love for Agnes.

The brutal 19th century Icelandic setting and context is utilised by Kent in order to best reflect the uncertainty, confusion and disturbance felt by key characters. Reverend Toti’s and Margret’s disturbance and uncertainty is imitated in the dynamic Icelandic weather, while Agnes’ incompatibility with society is emulated in the intrinsic superstition rooted in Icelandic culture parallel to the Lutheran Church.

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The Question of Control: Burial Rites, and the Themes of Gender and Society   

April 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Hannah Kent’s award winning Australian novel Burial Rites illustrates the remaining days of the last woman executed in Iceland; Agnes Magnúsdóttir. In an interview conducted by the Guardian, Kent stated that she first learnt of Agnes’ story through a university exchange program to Iceland. “I first heard the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir when I was an exchange student in the north of Iceland.” (Kent). Throughout the interview, there is a distinct emphasis on the sense of boredom and loneliness she felt during her trip which, Kent claims, spurred her interest in the woman’s story. Through the creation of a speculative biography which carefully weaves historical events with emotion, Burial Rites presents an ambiguous perspective of Agnes’ life and resolves the feeling of seclusion illustrated in the historic depiction of Agnes Magnúsdóttir. There are, however, blatant similarities, in my opinion, between these prominent female influences in their character, age, gender and environment. Kent’s chosen manner of portrayal, such as: the inclusion of interior monologues and formation of a heightened or supplemented reality in which Agnes is central, has given context and a voice to her characters. A lack of control is, however, exhibited through Kent’s characters in their interactions with Icelandic social mores and the restrictions placed upon them by their gender, social stature, relationships, and even emotions.

The classification of female and male often strays from simply biological features but includes gender as well. Australian sociologist, Dr Zuleyka Zevallos, defines gender as “a concept that describes how societies determine and manage sex categories; the cultural meanings attached to men and women’s roles; and how individuals understand their identities.”- (Zevallos). Through many of her academic publications, Zevallos describes the ways which cultural bias, stereotypes and historical influencers have created the ‘idealistic’ woman and a world which worships societal correctness and isolates those who do not conform to it. Women, therefore, lack control over their behaviour or actions in that they are forced to demonstrate specific attitudes because of their fear of being unaccepted. For example: Sigga was freed because she conformed to the traditional Icelandic archetype of a woman. She was rather feeble, quiet, submissive even appeasing, characteristics which are not apparent in other female characters such as Agnes (who was condemned and executed). In the novel, the differences in these women are alluded to in the quote, “A lot of people Vatnsnes way hope Sigga will receive a pardon from the King. Too young and sweet to die.” The man pulled a face. “Not like this one. She has a right temper when she fancies.”- page 41.

Burial Rites explores the influence and bearing of status in the functionality of society. Characters such as the District Commissioner; Björn Blöndal exercise a robust sense of authority because of a high social ranking and income. It is evident that Iceland in the 1800’s, similarly to the modern world, favoured wealth and prestige over wisdom or kindness such as that presented by the family of Kornsá. Blöndal’s sovereignty (coming as it does from the King of Denmark, as, demonstrated through the letters between them which discuss Agnes’ execution and Blöndal’s use of the phrase, “I am, Your Excellency, your most humble and obedient servant.’-page 86) is shown throughout the first chapter, particularly when he visits Jón’s small croft and meets Steina and Lauga; Jon’s daughters. His attitudes, behaviour and mannerisms are all suggestive of his superiority. This is demonstrated through instances such as Blöndal’s refusal to accept food from Steina, perhaps, due to the dirt on her clothes, face and hands. ‘He sniffed the skyr appraisingly, then looked up at the two sisters.’-page 15. As well as his gravely condescending and taunting response when he perceives that Steina address him in a considerably insolent manner when explained his decision to inflict Agnes with in their home. His response, shown on page 17, exemplifies the true sense of societal disparity between these characters, “I have no choice,” he said, his voice suddenly low and dangerous. “Your father’s title comes with responsibility. I’m sure he would not question me.”- page 17. Steina, Lauga and furthermore the family of Kornsá, therefore, lack the same form of control as Blöndal in their inability to prevent the imposition of Agnes Magnúsdóttir upon their household.

The rigid ethical restrictions of 18th century Iceland prevented Agnes from attaining social acceptance. Her inability to conform to the Icelandic epitome of the ‘perfect’ woman, created a sense of exclusion. It, however, gave Agnes an opportunity to emancipate herself from societal expectation, as, she did not allow the Icelandic stereotypes to restrain or dictate the woman she was. This form of freedom forced her to sacrifice the respect of others as shown through Natan’s insinuation on page 219, “Agnes. You pretend you don’t understand me, but you do. We’re the same kind.” He suggests that there are many similarities in their character, despite, the common conception that he was rebellious in terms of his unprincipled behaviour toward women and disregard of Christianity, as shown on page 219, “It’s a lie. Man has created God out of fear of dying.” The respective households of Natan, Jón and Margrét exhibit a domestic hierarchy in which there is a distinct order within the household. Initially this could deem to be an injustice to Agnes, in that she was spending her final days serving others, however, it ultimately gave her an opportunity to form an understanding and trusting relationship with Margrét. This type of association is not only shown through Agnes’ confession on pages 268 onwards, but, the delivery of Roslin’s baby and the description of the Kornsá women, including Agnes, cooking and preparing the lamb. The description of both these events, specifically the narrative on page 204, emphasises the care, precision, experience and knowledge Agnes possesses. “When Lauga has finished strained the blood I stir in the rest of the suet and the rye flour, and I suggest we stir in some lichen as well, as we used to do as Geitaskard.”-page 204.

The ultimate deaths of Margrét and Natan illustrate the little influence which the characters in this novel have over the direction of their fate. The deaths of these characters and eventually all the characters with in the novel, exemplifies the constraints and pressure which time prompts because as it passes it draws each one closer to their deaths. In the first chapter Margrét speaks briefly of her desire to own more cattle and the ways which it could improve her family’s welfare, “Another cow would be nice though. The extra butter. We could afford another hand for harvest.”-page 20. Jón, her husband, suggests that with time and patience they would acquire everything they yearned for, however, his wife’s retort, “In good time I’ll be dead.”-page 20, shows her bitterness and acknowledgement towards her illness and its bearing on the duration her life. The described recollections to the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jónsson by Agnes from pages 238 onwards, depict Natan as an extremely private person who, though primarily prioritising his independence, also precedents the protection of his wealth and property.

Natan was, therefore, an extremely possessive person who enjoyed exerting dominance over feeble characters, from a social aspect, such as Sigga or Fridrik. In instances such as: his refusal to allow the two to marry and his gravely discordant sexual relationship with Sigga. This is shown in the quote, ‘He said that he had known Sigga had been carrying on with Fridrik behind his back, but he did not think it would lead to this.’- page 277. Natan was, however, unable to determine who would have possession of what he owned because this responsibility had been allocated to the District Commissioner, who held an extremely unemotional viewpoint of the debacle. This is exhibited through the public notice on page 3, which suggests that an auction would be held to sell the items which ‘the farmer Natan Ketilsson has left behind’ – page 3. Natan’s ill-treatment and disrespect toward Agnes is unable to end the infatuation and love which she has for him; she is unable to control her feelings. Their argument prior to Natan’s death described on pages 287 onwards, truly alluded to the differences in their commitment to their relationship, predominantly through the quote, “And do you think I love you?” Natan shook his head. “You Agnes?” He narrowed his eyes and stood up, his breath hot in my face. “You’re a cheap sort of woman. I was wrong about you.”-page 288. Agnes’ overwhelming feelings of seclusion (which stemmed from her adolescence) perhaps, caused her manic obsession to latch on to the last form of security she knew; Natan. Her love for him was so great that it became unbearable to accompany him the night of his death and she was forced to stab his stomach. Kent regards Agnes’ fixation on Natan through an interior monologue on page 81, “A hunger so deep, so capable of driving me into the night, that it terrified me.”. She suggests that, regardless, of his actions and criticism Agnes would continue to seek Natan’s acceptance or forgiveness and only blame herself. ‘I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude-he regarded me clearly. It seemed like forgiveness.’-page 303.

Agnes’ misconceptions of Natan’s behaviour and affections provoked the formation of arbitrary expectations of him. PsyBlog’s article titled, ‘How Other People’s Unspoken Expectations Control Us’ describes the ways which expectations change people. Agnes and Natan’s failure to understand each other’s character caused the development of irrational expectations which initiated and influenced a difference in their behaviour and interactions with other characters and one another. ‘The effect may be subtle, but it’s a powerful realisation that other people’s behaviour is partly derived from how we view them, just as our behaviour is partly derived from how others view us.’- (“How Other People’s Unspoken Expectations Control Us – Psyblog”). For example: when introduced to Poet Rósa, Natan’s former partner, he introduces Agnes as his mere servant through the quote, “Rósa, Agnes is my servant.”- page 250. Though the reader is not informed of any sadness or irritation which Agnes had felt through this introduction, she seemingly expects Natan to inform people of their relationship, as, shown through the quote, “What have you told her about us?” I whispered to Natan. “I haven’t told Rósa anything.”-page 251. Agnes had also anticipated that she would have the position of housekeeper in Natan’s household in Illugastadir because of Natan request that she live with him whilst fulfilling this role. She, hence, formed to expectation to receive this role upon her arrival, yet, she did not consider that Natan had lied or manipulated her into moving closer to him because she intrigued and sexually appeased him. “I thought that perhaps Natan has asked her [Sigga] to be his housemistress until I arrived, or perhaps she was a liar. I didn’t think that Natan would lie to me.”- page 228. Kent’s portrayal of Agnes’ Magnúsdóttir’s life is indicative of an unintentionally formed emotional and empathetic connection to the Agnes portrayed within the historical documents.

Kent felt an obligation to suggest a contrary perspective of Agnes’s life, however, she chose to do so in a manner that gave liberty to her characters and did not dictate their lives in a mostly predictable way. This was shown through the prominence of the theme female oppression, the social hypocrisy stemming from Kent’s portrayal of the King of Denmark’s role, the deaths of characters such as Natan who enjoyed exerting influence over more feeble and soft hearted characters as well as the expectations and relationship between Natan and Agnes. Kent’s novel truly exhibits the ways which we lack control in our lives and how we embrace delusional concepts which supposedly exhibit control such as: independence, power, wealth or knowledge. Her pursuit to provide a contrary portrayal and challenge the previous assumptions of Agnes’ character and life has allowed Kent to remind the modern world of the lie which is control. That, through death, each of us, are forced to surrender all forms of it.

References “Face the Facts: Gender Equality | Australian Human Rights Commission”. Humanrights.gov.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. Hajra, Wardah. “Top 10 Reasons Why Women Are Better Than Men”. WondersList. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. “How Other People’s Unspoken Expectations Control Us – Psyblog”. PsyBlog. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. McGirr, Reviewed. “Burial Rites Review | Prejudice Melts Away in A Frigid Landscape”. The Sydney Morning Herald. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. Moss, Sarah. “Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Review”. the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. Report, Gulf. “Women in UAE Rise Above Gender Bias”. GulfNews. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017. “Sociology of Gender”. The Other Sociologist. N.p., 2017. Web. 19 Mar. 2017.

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Setting, Character, and Turmoil in Burial Rites

January 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

Hannah Kent’s novel Burial Rites explores how the turbulent setting of 19th century Iceland in turn reflects the turmoil experienced by key characters in the narrative to a large extent. Kent’s juxtaposition of brutal, frosty winters with bountiful, brilliant summers and springs alongside foreboding, dubious autumns represents the dynamic and ever-changing agitation and tumult that characters such as Reverend Toti and Margret undergo through their interaction with Agnes Magnusdottir, a criminal convicted of murder. Agnes’ inner turmoil too is reflected in setting. The rustic yet callous Icelandic environment deeply mirrors Reverend Toti’s confusion and uncertainty as he matures from a young, naïve boy into a true man of honour.

Initially, when Toti sets out to meet Agnes at Kornsa, he feels confident and is determined to save Agnes. The setting around him is pleasant, as “the clouds began to clear” and the “soft red light of the late Jun sun flooded the pass.” Kent’s lyrical description of the weather emulates Toti’s buoyant emotional state, which is one of courage and certainty. In contrast, when he leaves Kornsa, discourages from and disappointed with his meeting with Agnes, “rain began to fall and the gale grew stronger”, with the light “fast disappearing”. The fierce gale, coupled with the disappearance of light, seems to mock Toti’s earlier confidence of meeting Agnes. The second stage of Toti’s transformation against setting is his meeting with District Commissioner Blondal. At this point, Toti has created a meaningful connection with Agnes and is slowly maturing, a connection of amity. As Toti is exposed to a portrayal of Agnes full of malice and rancour from Blondal, Toti is momentarily disarmed. As he leaves Blondal’s office and steps outside, the landscape has grown “cloudy and dim”, like Toti’s perception of Agnes. Toti confirms that the landscape too is “sympathetic to his confusion”. Kent here reiterates Toti’s disturbance at a different display of Agnes and his disorientation as to whether to continue to support Agnes. Towards the end of Agnes’ life, Toti’s metamorphosis is completed on a bitterly cold January day.

Toti, ill with fever, receives word that Agnes will die in six days’ time. Determined, he dresses himself and refutes his father’s pleas for sanity, as it is “snowing outside”. Reverend Jon urges his son not to kill himself for “the sake of this murderess”, as the “cold will kill you”. Toti, however, stands up to his father, as Kent shows the final transformation of Toti into a young man, who knows his duty and need to be with Agnes. Agnes’ turmoil is echoed through the strong superstition she carries against the backdrop of the forceful Lutheran Church. Agnes’ search for love and warmth in her otherwise bleak life often results in her turning away from the Church. This is because of her illegitimacy, which is deemed sinful, wrong and consequently attracts stigma. Agnes’ life is rooted in superstition, stemming from her early abandonment as a child, seen in Agnes’ startling reverence for ravens, “Cruel birds, ravens, but wise.” Agnes shuns religion in favour of superstition and sagas, “I prefer a story to a prayer”, since it provides comfort and contentment that religion could never give her and believes she doesn’t deserve.

However, Agnes’ reclusion from religion and society serves to decrease her reputation in the North Icelandic community. To combat this, Agnes goes to church with her fellow farmhands and work maids. However, this is only done for Agnes’ need to be “part of something” and churchgoing causes her to feel “pure”. Margret, mistress of Kornsa, also experiences uncertainty through her relationship with Agnes. When Agnes first arrives at Kornsa, Margret is angry and sceptical towards Agnes and her upcoming stay. The “bare” environment seen at Kornsa mirrors Margret’s attitude to Agnes, bare and lacking warmth and welcome. However, on the day of Agnes’ execution, Margret transforms fully. Kent paints a scene buoyant with grief and loss at Agnes’ approaching death with clouds that “hang like dead bodies”. Against this setting, Margret weeps with emotion and agitation at Agnes’ departure and repeats the words, “my girl. My girl”, cementing the connection between them, that of mother and daughter. This scene also represents Margret’s journey from narrow-minded darkness into understanding and ultimately true love for Agnes.

The brutal 19th century Icelandic setting and context is utilised by Kent in order to best reflect the uncertainty, confusion and disturbance felt by key characters. Reverend Toti’s and Margret’s disturbance and uncertainty is imitated in the dynamic Icelandic weather, while Agnes’ incompatibility with society is emulated in the intrinsic superstition rooted in Icelandic culture parallel to the Lutheran Church.

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