Burial Rites by Hannah Kent Summary Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Burial Rites

Plot Summary Part 1

Agnes is a woman in 19th century Iceland who is convicted of killing a farmer named Natan. But in Iceland in the 19th century, they have not yet invented jails. Believe it or not, on the entire, huge island of Iceland, they have absolutely no jails, so Agnes is send to a farm with a housewife and young daughters to await her execution.

Does anything about the setup of this novel make any sense to you? It makes absolutely none to me. A woman who is a convicted killer would never be let loose on a family with young children, no matter if it's Iceland in the 19th century. The entire premise of this story is ridiculous.

Agnes starts out locked in a store room. She has to make a dooty in a pot and the pot is full and smells of her own manure. She is taken out of the store room and sent to a farm run by Marget and her two daughters. Marget is assured she and her two small children will be perfectly safe having a convicted killer awaiting execution on her farm.

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When Agnes gets to the farm, Marget sees Agnes has been smacked around and is covered in mud. She spends some time delousing Agnes and burning her clothes because she is filthy.

The government begins the slow preparation for her execution. Government officials worry they have paid too much money for the axe they bought to chop off Agnes's head, and send each other frantic memos discussing the cost overruns.

Meanwhile, at the farm, Agnes is given a scythe, which can be used to cut crops, or to cut people. Yes, Agnes, the convicted killer, is given a sharp instrument that can kill others. Then she is sent to cut the crops.

You have to wonder, as I do throughout the book, why Agnes never tries to escape. She is not chained up, there are no guards--why doesn't she simply run away? This is never explained.

Agnes is very upset about her situation. When she urinates she pees down her own leg. I thought only men could do that; is it really possible for women to also?

Agnes meets with a priest named Toti and begins to tell her life story. She was an orphan adopted by a couple, but then the foster mom died and the foster dad told her to get the f out, so Agnes was on her own again. Then a guy named Natan came by and told Agnes to come work at his farm, that they would have great times together, in and out of bed.

We get hundreds of pages watching Agnes work on the farm, Agnes talking about her dreams, Agnes talking about her distant past, everything you can possibly imagine except anything related to the murder she was convicted of.

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