Burial Rites

Burial Rites Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chapter Twelve begins with a translated passage from one of the Icelandic Sagas, the Laxdoela Saga. In the saga, Gudrún is unhappily married to a close friend of Kjartan, the man she really loves. Kjartan, who is angry that his friend married Gudrún before he could, quarrels with Gudrún and her husband and humiliates them. In the scene from the saga in the novel, Gudrún goes into the badstofa where her brother Ospak is lazing about and encourages him to go seek revenge on Kjartan. Ospak does as Gudrún says and gets ready to fight Kjartan to the death.
Like Burial Rites, the Laxdoela Saga features themes of unrequited love and murder. Both pieces of literature prominently feature women characters navigating toxic relationships and using what little power they possess to fulfill their emotional desires and needs. Both Gudrún and Agnes end up bringing about the deaths of the men they love, though in entirely different ways.
Themes
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Literacy, Language, and the Icelandic Landscape Theme Icon
The narrative then switches back to Agnes’s voice. She describes how she and Fridrik arrived at Natan’s farm together. Sigga answered the door and let them in, though Natan had told her not to. Sigga said that Natan left to treat Worm, who had fallen ill. Fridrik then began looking through the house for money. After failing to find any, Fridrik sat next to Sigga and called her his wife. Sigga, starting to sob, told him that Natan changed his mind and wouldn’t let them marry. Sigga told them that Natan said that if anyone married her, it would be him.
As Agnes and Fridrik return to the farm to find Sigga, Sigga informs them that Natan has gone back on his word to let her marry Fridrik. This, of course, is consistent with Natan’s lying throughout the book. Again, this shows how dangerous life is for poor women, because they are not allowed to make their own choices.
Themes
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Women, Violence, and Innocence Theme Icon
Class, Colonization, and Hierarchies of Power Theme Icon
Fridrik, Sigga, and Agnes spent the next few days together preparing to leave. Sigga planned to go back to Stóra-Borg, where she was born, and Fridrik suggested a farm where Agnes might find work. As they were planning, the trio saw Natan arriving with Pétur. When Natan got to the house and saw Agnes, he told her to leave. Sigga begged for him to let her stay the rest of the winter, but Natan insisted that Agnes go. Agnes, though desperate for his love, said nothing. Fridrik broke the silence by telling Natan that Natan was not going to marry Sigga. Natan conceded that Agnes could stay, but said she couldn’t sleep in the badstofa. He told Fridrik to leave.
As Fridrik, Sigga, and Agnes intend to flee, Natan arrives and asserts his control over his farm. Again, this shows how women like Sigga and Agnes have few options, since Sigga cannot choose for herself who she will marry and where she will go without Natan’s permission, and Agnes has nowhere else to stay. The Icelandic landscape and climate comes into play here as well, since it is simply too hostile for Agnes to strike out on her own.
Themes
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Literacy, Language, and the Icelandic Landscape Theme Icon
Class, Colonization, and Hierarchies of Power Theme Icon
That night, Agnes slept in the cowshed again. She woke up in the night and heard footsteps. It was Fridrik, who had walked all the way there from his farm. Fridrik told Agnes he had come to finally take “what’s [his].” In the moonlight, Agnes saw that Fridrik was carrying a hammer and a knife. Agnes did not believe Fridrik would actually do anything, so she went back to sleep. When she woke again, she entered the house and found Sigga cowering with Thóranna. Sigga told Agnes to go look in the badstofa.
As he does throughout the book, Fridrik displays a sense of entitlement to Sigga, calling her “his.” It is unclear at this point in the narrative whether Agnes truly believed that Fridrik would not hurt Natan, or if Natan had so badly abused her that she did nothing to stop Fridrik in order to prevent Natan from hurting her again.
Themes
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Get the entire Burial Rites LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Shaking, Agnes went to the kitchen for a lamp, where she found Fridrik. Fridrik told her he did not know if Natan was dead or not. Agnes’s heart dropped. She found a lamp and then went to the badstofa. Agnes saw Pétur, whose head was crushed, and then Natan, who although not dead, was extremely mutilated. They heard Natan groan, and Fridrik told Agnes he had hit them both with the hammer. Natan then became conscious and said Agnes’s name. Next he saw Pétur, realized what was happening, and began to panic.
Agnes enters the badstofa to a scene of incredible violence. In yet another example of how names are repeated and given prominence throughout the book, Natan speaks Agnes’s name as he regains consciousness and sees her. As Natan realizes that he has been attacked and Pétur has been killed, he confronts the possibility of his own death—which he has been dreaming about and dreading—and panics.
Themes
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Agnes, furious with Fridrik, asked him what he was going to do now. Natan, who tried to get out of the bed, fell. Agnes realized that Natan was too badly hurt and would not survive the night. Natan tried to talk to Fridrik, but Fridrik turned away. Natan said Agnes’s name again, but then began choking on his own blood. Agnes told Fridrik to kill Natan so that he would not die slowly, but Fridrik refused. Agnes then stabbed Natan with a knife in the belly, and as Natan looked Agnes in the eyes, she thought she saw forgiveness.
When Agnes stabs Natan in the belly to prevent him from further suffering, she may be thinking of her conversation with him about the fox kit, in which both she and Natan decided that it was better to kill it quickly than to let it suffer. According to Agnes, killing Natan was an act of love and mercy, not an act of malice as the court suggests.
Themes
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Fridrik then told Agnes that she killed Natan. Fridrik began sobbing, then took the knife out of Natan’s stomach and walked out. Agnes told Fridrik he would be hanged for this, and Fridrik responded that she would be burnt alive. Agnes realized that her hands were covered in blood, and that’s when she thought of Natan’s large quantities of whale oil.
Although Fridrik is truly responsible for Natan’s death, Fridrik knows, as Agnes does, that because Agnes is covered with blood and because, unlike Sigga, she is not young and submissive, she will be blamed for the murders.
Themes
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