Knitting as Metaphor January 18, 2011
What is a metaphor? – I looked it up in my pocket dictionary and I found a very simple definition. It’s a noun meaning one thing used for another. So here I’m thinking about how knitting was used in the book Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag. This book reads easily but there is a lot in it to ponder. Biblical references, the harsh climate, the themes of loneliness and isolation, I could go on. But it struck me that in one instance at least knitting was used as a metaphor for hope. A woman named Beret was the main female character. She was having a very lonely unhappy time trying to come to grips with life on the prairie in this tiny settlement. Beret was expecting another child and one of her few neighbours who did not have children herself wanted to knit a small garment for Beret’s bhild. It was a small gesture but the neighbour begged Beret to allow her to come over and knit this item for her soon-to-be born child. This request was made partly to cheer Beret up by spending time with her and to anticipate the birth. Poor Beret was getting more and more depressed and anxious. To me the knitting was a symbol of hope, partly for a rise in Beret’s spirits. But it was also a symbol of hope that maybe the neighbour would conceive and bear a child herself.
On a more practical level I wondered how the woman had any yarn to knit with. Their possessions were few in their sod huts there on the prairie and they were far from a town where there was a store. They had probably brought some yarn with them when they arrived initially but that had probably been made up into garments long before. They didn’t have any sheep. And there is no mention of spinning wheels or spindles or carders. However, now that I think of it weren’t hand carders and spindles traditional items in an immigrant’s trunk? So possibly they did have there….but there is no mention of sheep – and they would have had sheep in Norway where they had originally come from.
In the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle there are examples of these immigrants trunks and their contents. These trunks could be highly decorated, beautiful examples of Norwegian craftsmanship and artistic skills. I’ve also checked out a few other sites and found an interesting item from South Dakota. Photo from the website referenced above and the accompanying blurb.
Beautiful, Outstanding all original early Immigrant trunk dating to 1830. This is definitely a museum quality piece. This is an excellent example of the detail done by the 19th Century artists. It has the original paint and rosemalling and hardware. I have seen other early immigrant trunks, but the bright and lively colors and condition of this trunk are just outstanding. This trunk has the early hand hammered hardware, and we also still have the large key to this trunk. Notice the details that this trunk was made with dove tailed work on the corners and there is even early wheels that were placed on the bottom of this trunk, there is one of the original wheels missing. This trunk measures 46 1/2″ wide, 24″ high, and is 23″ deep. Notice the interior has two small side compartments.
We acquired this trunk from the North Sioux City, South Dakota area, upon visiting with the gentleman that we purchased this trunk from he stated that originally this trunk came from the Onawa, Iowa area, a local couple there sold this trunk to an antique mall in the area to sell it. This trunk had been in their family and they had decided to sell it. – $6500.
Somehow I feel that the immigrants in our book Giants in the Earth were too poor even to have a trunk, but I don’t know. Anyhow, a trunk and its contents were not discussed in the book. Beret did have needlework supplies -fine sewing, mending, and needlework were mentioned fairly often.