Janteloven and Social Conformity in Thorbørn Egner’s Literature

Ellen Ann Ahlness

Abstract


Janteloven is a set of fictional laws detailed in Danish author Aksel Sandemose’s 1933 book, “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks,” which satirizes the Scandinavian view towards individuality versus the collective. These laws, consisting of rules such as “thou shalt not believe thou art better than us,” direct a negative attitude towards those who stand out from the cultural norm. This contradicts the ever-growing ethnic diversity in Norway today. Today, Janteloven is regarded as a sociological term describing the unified mindset in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway that champions societies where inhabitants are encouraged to set the community’s needs over the individual’s. This mindset is prevalent as an agent of socialization though Norwegian children’s literature.

A sample of eight children books by Norwegian author Thorbjørn Egner, published between 1940 and 1958, were analyzed, and examples of behaviors or speech exhibiting Janteloven behavior were recorded. These were scaled to the range of society affected: the individual, family, friends, or the community as a whole. Through this research, it was discovered that each book contains at least one example of a main character conforming to Janteloven behavior and social norms.

The results of the research imply that Egner’s work strongly promotes community harmony over individual social achievement, contributing to the understanding that children’s literature enforces the Janteloven mindset. These findings help identify an area from which Norwegian cultural identity is shaped, and leads to the study of how this mindset creates attitudes that youth have toward their society, especially in an increasingly heterogeneous Norway.


Keywords


Janteloven; Norway; Children's Literature

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