Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

09 May 2011

(Short Story) The Call of Life by: Knut Hamsun

(Reaction) Funeral Hymn by: Antonio Conejos

View other reactions on works by Knut Hamsun.

A chance meeting at a street corner, mutual attraction between man and woman. This is how the call of life begins. It is the narrator who begins the spontaneous courtship by suggesting the lady take his arm, It may warm you a bit. He then successfully suggests that he escort her home.

Upon arrival, it is the lady's turn to reciprocate the man's attentions, Once inside she seized my hand... the lady paused a moment, threw her arms about me suddenly, and kissed me tremblingly, passionately on the mouth. Right on the mouth. Thus this random encounter between two strangers results in a mutually willing passion, I took a step toward her. She uttered a little cry and at the same time came toward me.

Given the whirlwind nature of events, the narrator knows nothing about this strange girl except that he wants her. He is aware though that she may be married, She might have been twenty-two or three, wore a ring on her right hand, and might for that matter really have been a married woman.

His suspicions are confirmed when he reads Ellen's announcement in the next days newspaper that her husband is dead. The narrator (perhaps unfairly) concludes that Ellen is gladdened by the death of her husband, A man marries. His wife is thirty years younger than he. He contracts a lingering illness. One fair day he dies. And the young widow breathes a sigh of relief.

It is possible to discern, even without the commentary of the narrator, that Ellen's marriage was not a happy one. Certainly there is the age different between the spouses. Moreover, they were no longer sharing the same bed, as noted by the narrator. I went into the bedroom... I saw two beds. Finally, the illness has ravaged the husband, His bony knees protruded like madly clenched fists underneath the sheet and his face was sallow and ghastly in the extreme. As such, it is safe to conclude that the husband was, before his death, unable to fulfill certain marital obligations.

Note the words used to describe the death of the husband, who dies on a fair day to the relief of his young wife. The narrator implies that the husband's death is for the best, a boon to Ellen (and himself). A young, vibrant woman, not beautiful but who had an effervescent life about her, need not be shackled to her dead husband and an unsatisfying marriage. Hamsun's Call of Life asserts fittingly that life is for the living. This assertion is further reinforced by the clear passion between the characters as compared to Ellen's listless marriage.


This short story is shrouded in mystery. For one, what exactly is the narrator doing going up and down a deserted street at night, a relatively new, yet desolate boulevard? Two, how is it that Ellen knows who the narrator is, even to the point that she knows where he lives? These questions are, frustratingly, never answered in Hamsun's short story. This is a pity as these seem integral to the premise of the plot.

One may ponder as well what kind of character this new widow is who, whose husband has not been dead but a day, goes out and finds another man. Then there is the narrator who, suspecting the lady to be married, still stays the night. And the final nail in the coffin is that the tryst occurs in the marital home where the corpse of the husband still lies in state!

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