Burial Rites

Burial Rites Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter Eleven opens with a clerical report from 1828 that summarizes Fridrik’s brother Bjarni’s testimony. He stated that Fridrik killed two of Natan’s sheep the previous year. According to Bjarni, his mother told him not to mention that in the trial.
Kent again links lying and violence when she provides a clerical report describing how Fridrik’s mother tried to get her son to lie in order to protect Fridrik.
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The third-person narrative then resumes as Margrét wakes up to the sound of Agnes crying. Margrét gets out of bed and lights the fire in the kitchen. She approaches Agnes and sees that she is asleep, but seems to be having bad dreams. As Margrét reaches down to pulls her blanket up, Agnes awakes and accuses Margrét of watching her. Margrét explains that Agnes’s cry awoke her.
In this section, Margrét, who is trusting Agnes more and more, acts affectionately towards her, pulling up her blanket as she watches her have fitful dreams. Considering the importance of dreams in the book, the reader might anticipate that Agnes’s dream is significant.
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Agnes makes room for Margrét to sit on the bed as Margrét has a coughing fit. Margrét asks what Agnes was dreaming about. Agnes tells her she was having a nightmare about Fridrik’s farm, where she stayed for a few days before Natan died after he threw her out. Agnes then asks Margrét why she hasn’t asked her about the murders, and Margrét says she thought that was between Agnes and Tóti. Margrét invites Agnes to come into the kitchen with her.
Agnes, realizing that she has only told Margrét part of the story, asks why Margrét has not asked about the murders. Unlike other characters in the book, Margrét does not seem especially curious about the crimes. Rather than feeling that knowing the “truth” is necessary, Margrét is content to only know her own business.
Themes
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In the kitchen, Margrét heats milk and tells Agnes that her mother had a superstition that if there was always a fire burning in the house, the devil could not get in. Agnes tells Margrét about one farm she worked on where the fire went out in the winter and she thought they would all die of the cold. Margrét hands Agnes a cup of hot milk. Agnes comments that they have lots of supplies for the winter, and Margrét tells her it is because of the compensation Blöndal is giving them for keeping her.
Even Margrét, who is not anti-Christian like Agnes and Natan, reveals that she indulges in superstition as she tells Agnes about her mother’s keeping a fire burning to keep the devil out. Once again, for many people in the book Christianity and superstition are not in opposition, but rather are intertwined.
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Agnes apologizes for waking Margrét, who says she often wakes up anyway to check on the girls. Agnes is sorry that, with her there, Margrét is afraid for her children, but Margrét says mothers always are anyway. Agnes tells Margrét that Ingveldur left her when she was a child. Margrét says all mothers think of their children—including Agnes’s, Fridrik’s, and Sigga’s. Agnes tells Margrét that Sigga’s mother is dead and Fridrik’s mother, Thórbjörg, is going to be arrested because she knew about Fridrik’s plans.
As Agnes and Margrét talk, Agnes apologizes for the fact that her incarceration at Kornsá caused Margrét to fear for her children, though Agnes obviously had no choice about where she was kept. Margrét then tries to comfort Agnes about her mother’s abandonment. Margrét and Agnes express compassion for one another and grow closer.
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According to Agnes, the judges at her trial thought that Thórbjörg and Agnes had plotted the murders together, but in fact, Agnes only went to Thórbjörg for a place to stay after Natan threw her out. Margrét asks Agnes how the farm burnt down and Agnes insists it was a kitchen fire. Margrét, though, thinks it was Fridrik’s doing, and that Agnes is protecting her friend. Agnes insists that Fridrik is not her friend, but says that he did have a romance with Sigga.
Although the court system is supposed to have found the “true” version of events on the night of the murders, as Agnes speaks with Margrét it seems that the court got certain details wrong (like Agnes’s visit with Thórbjörg). Although these details don’t exonerate Agnes, they cast Agnes in a more sympathetic light.
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Agnes mentions how profoundly lonely the farm could be in the winter with so few neighbors. Natan went away often and did not seem to enjoy being back. Natan also did not like them seeing Fridrik because of their tense relationship. They had had a fight after Natan bought part of a whale carcass and Fridrik began taking part of his share. Agnes tells Margrét that, after that incident, Natan spent even less time at home. When he was home, Natan was very critical and suspicious of Agnes and Sigga.
As Natan’s spirits change and he becomes moodier, the isolation of his farm leaves Agnes without people to turn to for companionship. Natan slowly reveals the extent of his jealousy and greed, and the fact that he and Fridrik fight so often about money shows how class differences may drive a wedge between people who may otherwise be friends.
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Later, Natan and Fridrik got into another fight. Afterward, Natan took his anger out on Sigga, yelling at her and threatening to throw her out in the snow. Natan then old Agnes to follow him outside to the beach. There, Natan told Agnes that Fridrik had asked for permission to marry Sigga, and even offered him money, which Natan took. Agnes tells Margrét that Fridrik proposed to Sigga the next day.
As Natan describes the transactive way Fridrik asked for Sigga’s hand in marriage, the fact that Sigga must ask for Natan’s permission to marry Fridrik comes across as even more concerning. Sigga is being traded like an object rather than a person.
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Agnes deviates from her story to tell Margrét how the sea near Natan’s farm was different than other places in Iceland. She remembers once seeing two icebergs rubbing together so that a piece of driftwood on each of the icebergs suddenly burst into flames. Margrét said this sounds like something in the sagas.
As Agnes describes the landscape surrounding Natan’s farm and the two icebergs igniting into flames, Kent displays the wonder of the Icelandic landscape and its capacity to inspire literature.
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The narrative shifts to Agnes’s first person perspective as she remembers the events that followed Fridrik’s proposal to Sigga. That night it snowed so hard that Fridrik had to stay at Natan’s farm. Agnes realized that Natan hated Fridrik not because he thought Fridrik was going to steal his money, but because he thought Fridrik was going to steal Sigga. That night, a sound outside woke Agnes. When she went to investigate it, she found Fridrik kicking a dead sheep. Agnes asked what he was doing. Fridrik laughed and did not explain himself. Fridrik went back to the farm and Agnes, disturbed by his violence, followed.
As Agnes describes how Natan covets Sigga’s attention and is possessive of her, she shows how Natan’s objectification of women and his consideration of women as his possessions puts those same women in danger and restricts their freedom. Natan is not the only man who displays a harrowing capacity for violence, however, as Agnes makes clear when she describes Fridrik kicking the dead sheep.
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Agnes went into the badstofa and found Fridrik and Sigga sitting together. Sigga looked upset. Agnes told them that two sheep were missing. Sigga said Fridrik killed them, and then sobbed. Fridrik, furious, told Agnes that Natan had been raping Sigga. Sigga was upset and said that she wanted to tell Agnes before. Agnes told her that she already knew, and had thought their sex was consensual. Agnes asked Sigga if it was true that he raped her, and she said she did not know. Fridrik, though, was convinced.
Again Agnes shows Fridrik’s capacity for violence when she describes how Fridrik killed Natan’s sheep out of anger towards him. Then, as Fridrik gets worked up about the idea of Natan raping Sigga, Fridrik seems not to be actually listening to Sigga or concerned for her wellbeing as a person—only as a possession.
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Fridrik said he was going to kill Natan, and when Agnes asked why, since Fridrik was going to marry Sigga anyway, Fridrik told Agnes that “a woman like [her]” would not understand. He then said that Sigga told him Natan had sex with Agnes too, but that Agnes actually enjoyed it. Daníel then entered the badstofa and told Fridrik to go home. Agnes told Daníel that Fridrik killed some sheep, and Daníel said he would talk to him later, once he had calmed down.
As Agnes probes Fridrik’s feelings about Natan “raping” Sigga, Fridrik does not seem especially concerned about Sigga’s feelings, but rather feels that Natan has infringed on his property. Fridrik implies that Agnes does not understand because of her loose morals and promiscuity.
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Three days later, after Fridrik had left, Natan returned to the farm. Natan was angry about Fridrik and Sigga’s engagement and he accused Agnes of being happy about them getting together. Natan then apologized to Agnes for having hit her before he left and told her he was glad to see her. That night, Natan and Agnes had sex.
As Natan apologizes to Agnes for having hit her and then pays her special attention, Kent shows how Natan gets Agnes back after his abuse by manipulating her and making her feel like he still loves her.
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The narrative then switches back to third person. Margrét, having apparently gone out to get more milk, returns to the kitchen and asks Agnes to continue her story. Agnes tells Margrét that Natan apologized to Sigga for being unreasonable and said she could marry whoever she wanted. Christmas came and went and Daníel returned to Worm’s farm. Sigga had become moody since her engagement, and seemed worried about what might happen if Fridrik and Natan were to encounter each other.
As Margrét comes back from getting more milk, Kent reminds the reader that Agnes is recounting and remembering her past, not the present, making her narrative slightly less reliable. Meanwhile, in Agnes’s story, Sigga seems to be just as concerned by Natan and Fridrik’s explosive tempers as Agnes is.
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The narrative returns to first person. One night, Agnes told Natan she knew he had been sleeping with Sigga. She said that she forgave him. Natan thought for a second and then told Agnes that he knew that she saw them have sex one night. The words pained Agnes immensely. Agnes told Natan he was cruel, and guessed that he never planned on making her the housekeeper, either. Natan told her to go to sleep and Agnes became more upset. She asked if he loved her, and Natan refused to answer directly.
When Agnes confronts Natan about sleeping with Sigga, she frames the confrontation as forgiveness. Natan, however, clearly feels entitled to sex with both Agnes and Sigga and shows no remorse. He even goes so far as to say that he did so knowing that Agnes saw, suggesting he was intending to hurt her.
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When Agnes persisted in asking him, Natan called her a nag. Agnes exploded, calling him a dog and telling him to go to hell. Natan continued to goad Agnes. She told him she hated him. Natan continued to say cruel things to her, telling Agnes she was cheap and manipulating her emotionally. The fight ended with Natan physically dragging Agnes outside and throwing her in the snow.
The relationship worsens as Agnes asks if Natan, in whom Agnes has invested so much time and energy, loves her back, and Natan calls Agnes a “nag.” Natan’s behavior during the fight could be considered both emotional and physical abuse of Agnes.
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Agnes sought shelter in the cowshed to keep from freezing. Eventually, Sigga brought Agnes clothes and shoes. Sigga told Agnes that Natan wouldn’t let Agnes inside, and said “I’m so sick of living here.” The next morning Agnes resolved to leave before Natan came out to feed the cows.
While Natan’s emotional violence reaches new heights in his fight with Agnes, so does his physical violence, as throwing Agnes out in the snow puts Agnes in danger of freezing to death.
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The narrative switches back to third person and shifts to following Tóti as he wakes up in his bed. He calls out for his father, who tells him he has yet another fever. Tóti says he needs to go to Kornsá and asks what month it is. His father tells him it is December. Tóti tries to get up, but Reverend Jón refuses to let him up until he is better, saying Agnes is not worth the amount of time he is devoting to her.
Although Reverend Jón is the more experienced minister, he does not have the same compassion for Agnes that Tóti does. Rather than viewing her, as Tóti does, as a fellow “sister in Jesus,” Jón thinks that Agnes is not worth Tóti’s energy. Jón does show love and care for his son, however.
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The narrative, still in the third-person, moves back to describing Margrét and Agnes’s conversation. Margrét is shocked to hear that Natan threw Agnes out in the snow. Agnes tells her to continue her story. She tells Margrét that she walked for hours to Fridrik’s farm, where Thórbjörg took her in. Fridrik’s farm, according to Agnes, was very poor and dirty. When Fridrik saw Agnes, he asked what Natan had done, and if Natan had decided to marry Sigga. Agnes told him that she had been thrown out.
When Agnes arrives at Fridrik’s farm, Fridrik’s mother immediate takes Agnes in. Fridrik’s home shows how poor his family is, which seems to shed light on Fridrik’s money-grubbing and theft. Kent seems to be suggesting that, after growing up in such extreme poverty, Fridrik longs for financial security like Natan’s.
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Thórbjörg then told Fridrik that Natan was trying to steal Sigga from him. Thórbjörg said that, as long as Natan was alive, Sigga would never be Fridrik’s. Agnes went to sleep, during which time she thinks that Thórbjörg and Fridrik plotted to kill Natan. Margrét suggests that they should go to bed, but Agnes asks if she does not want to hear the rest.
Thórbjörg is a complicated character in the novel, and one that the reader only experiences through Agnes’s narration. Although Thórbjörg shows Agnes kindness when she takes her in immediately, she also may have incited Fridrik’s murders.
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