In Beartown, Backman comments: “There are few words that are harder to explain than ‘loyalty.’ It’s always regarded as a positive characteristic, because a lot of people would say that many of the best things people do for each other occur precisely because of loyalty.” However, loyalty often has a dark side, too, when those who aren’t “loyal” become targets. Backman explores this dark side through the resistance and courage of several characters, especially Amat. Though he’s marginalized and longs to be fully part of the community, Amat puts everything on the line in order to resist the culture of silence surrounding Kevin’s assault of Maya. Through Amat’s courage and the quiet ripple effect it starts, Backman argues that resistance of powerful norms is always costly for those with the courage to try, but that it can nonetheless lead to positive transformations on a large scale.
Resistance comes with a personal cost. At first, it looks as though Amat’s longing to be a part of the community will be stronger than his desire to confront its dark side. After he’s threatened by his teammates, he joins them at the community meeting where the hockey club’s future is decided: “He goes to the rink. Joins his teammates. He may have left his wartorn country before he could talk, but he has never stopped being a refugee. Hockey is the only thing that has ever made him feel like part of a group. Normal. Good at something.” Backman uses this scene to underscore the cost of Amat’s resistance and heighten dramatic tension—the reader wonders if he’ll capitulate to the team after all.
But then, Amat walks into the meeting and tells the entire town the truth: “My name is Amat. I saw what Kevin did to Maya. […] I’m going to go to the police tomorrow, and they’ll say I’m not a reliable witness. But I’m going to tell you everything now, everything that Kevin did, everything that I saw. And you won’t ever forget it. You know that my eyes work better than anyone else’s in here. Because that’s the first thing you learn on the Beartown Ice Hockey Club, isn’t it? ‘You can’t teach that way of seeing. That’s something you’re born with.’” Amat’s words suggest that, ironically, his status as a born “outsider” allows him to see more clearly things to which other townspeople remain willfully blind. Amat’s speech also indicates that such resistance to the group mentality is costly, often requiring a person to sacrifice what little social capital they have for the sake of a higher principle.
Yet the courage displayed through such resistance often has ripple effects, even if those effects can’t be foreseen at the time. Predictably, after the town meeting, Amat faces consequences. “The only problem [with loyalty] is that many of the very worst things we do to each other occur because of the same thing. […] [The team’s] hate now isn’t about what they believe Kevin has or hasn’t done. It’s about Amat going against the team. They’re an army, and they need an enemy.” Because Amat has refused to assimilate to the team culture, the team turns on him, showing up at his house to beat him up. At this point, it looks as if the outcome will be that Amat’s solitary resistance is thoroughly crushed. Just when it looks as though Amat is going to have to face the team’s hatred alone, however, someone else displays courage at the last minute. Although his teammate Bobo had bullied Amat when he first joined the team, he ends up rising to his defense. “All his life Bobo has wanted just one thing: to be allowed to belong to something. [His teammate Lyt] shouts and shoves Bobo, presses his index finger to his forehead, and even from the window his mother can read the word ‘betrayal’ on his lips. The young men pull their hoods over their heads, mask themselves with their scarves, disappear among the trees. [He] is left standing there alone, until he changes his mind.” Though it initially looks as if Bobo has decided to join the mob, he quickly turns on them and defends Amat until they’re both bruised and bleeding. The two become unlikely friends and seeds of a new Beartown team later on. Amat and Bobo’s friendship illustrates how one act of resistance like Amat’s can crack even a seemingly unshakeable façade.
By the end of the book, big changes are coming to Beartown—residents even start a girls’ hockey team, the first time many girls in the town can feel included in the town’s hockey culture on their own terms. Though Amat didn’t knowingly set out to bring about such things, his actions make unprecedented changes conceivable. This reinforces Backman’s point that individual acts of resistance can have broadly transformative effects.
Resistance and Courage ThemeTracker
Resistance and Courage Quotes in Beartown
Even in Hed people recognize them, and they get slaps on the back and congratulations. After the movie, when Amat thinks they’re on the way home, Lyt turns off the main road just after the Beartown sign. He stops by the lake. Amat doesn’t understand why until Kevin opens the trunk of the car. They’ve got beer, lights, skates, and hockey sticks in the back. They put their woollen hats down to mark the goals.
They play hockey on the lake that night, four boys, and everything feels simple. As if they were children. Amat is amazed at how straightforward it is. Staying silent in return for being allowed to join in.
Even then, in the police station in Hed, she knew she would survive this. Even then she knew that her mom and dad wouldn’t. Parents don’t heal. […] There will be days when Maya is asked if she really understood the consequences, and she will nod yes, and of all the feelings inside her then, guilt will be the greatest. Because of the unimaginable cruelty she showed toward the people who loved her the most.
They sat there in the police station. She told them everything. And she could see in her parents’ eyes how the story made the same terrible sentence echo through them, over and over again. The one every mom and every dad deep down most fear having to admit:
“We can’t protect our children.”
Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.
So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe— comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy. There are many ways of doing that, but none is easier than taking her name away from her.
She will always be this to them now: at best the girl who got raped, at worst the girl who lied. They will never let her be anyone but that. In every room, on every street, in the supermarket and at the rink, she will walk in like an explosive device. They will be scared to touch her, even the ones who believe her, because they don’t want to risk getting hit by shrapnel when she detonates. They will back away in silence, turn in a different direction. They will wish that she would just disappear, that she had never been here. Not because they hate her, because they don’t, not all of them: they don’t all scrawl BITCH on her locker, they don’t all rape her, they aren’t all evil. But they’re all silent. Because that’s easier.
“It’s never your fault, is it? When are you going to admit that it isn’t ‘hockey’ that raises these boys, it’s YOU LOT? In every time and every place, I’ve come across men who blame their own stupidity on crap they themselves have invented. ‘Religion causes wars,’ ‘guns kill people,’ it’s all the same old bullshit! […] YOU’RE the problem! Religion doesn’t fight, guns don’t kill, and you need to be very fucking clear that hockey has never raped anyone! But do you know who do? Fight and kill and rape?”
Sune clears his throat. “Men?”
“MEN! It’s always fucking men!”
Ana feels like pushing her neighbor up against the wall and telling him that the locker room where those boys sit telling their stupid jokes ends up preserving them like a tin can. It makes them mature more slowly, while some even go rotten inside. And they don’t have any female friends, and there are no women’s teams here, so they learn that hockey only belongs to them, and their coaches teach them that girls are a “distraction.” So they learn that girls only exist for fucking. She wants to point out how all the old men in this town praise them for “fighting” and “not backing down,” but not one single person tells them that when a girl says no, it means NO. And the problem with this town is not only that a boy raped a girl, but that everyone is pretending that he DIDN’T do it. So now all the other boys will think that what he did was okay.
My name is Amat. I saw what Kevin did to Maya. I was drunk, I’m in love with her, and I’m telling you that straight so that you lying bastards don’t have to say it behind my back when I walk out of here. Kevin Erdahl raped Maya Andersson. I’m going to go to the police tomorrow, and they’ll say I’m not a reliable witness. But I’m going to tell you everything now, everything that Kevin did, everything that I saw. And you won’t ever forget it. You know that my eyes work better than anyone else’s in here. Because that’s the first thing you learn on the Beartown Ice Hockey Club, isn’t it? ‘You can’t teach that way of seeing. That’s something you’re born with.’
None of them sees the first skate of the child who’s the last one out. She’s four years old, a scrawny little kid in gloves that are too big for her, with bruises everyone sees but nobody asks about. Her helmet slips down across her eyes, but the look in them is clear enough.
Adri and Sune come after her, ready to hold the girl up, until they realize that there’s no need. The four boys at the center circle will build a new A-team next season, but that doesn’t matter, because in ten years’ time it won’t be their names that make the people of this town stand taller.
And they’ll all lie and say they were here and saw it happen. The first skate of the girl who will become the most talented player this club has ever seen. They’ll all say they knew it even then.