Characters of Jante is based on the book En Flyktning krysser sitt spor (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks), written around 1930 by Danish/Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose.
In his book Sandemose creates an imaginary small village called Jante, its population strictly abiding by the Law of Jante. The book’s protagonist, Espen Arnakke, finds himself in a crisis, as a result of which he is forced to delve in to his past, and in particular uncover his traumatic childhood in Jante. He attempts an inner quest fuelled by the hope and desire to find an explanation for the rage, that lead him to murder a friend seventeen years ago.
At the time, Sandemose could never have foreseen that his Law of Jante would become so influential and would come to take such a prominent and determining place in the mind of Scandinavians. For even though the book itself is not widely read anymore, most Scandinavians are familiar with this infamous Law.
In general, the Law of Jante describes the tyranny of the mediocre and resolutely demands that anyone above average has to pay for being so. According to the renowned Norwegian social anthropologist Thomas Hylland Eriksen: “It expresses an ideology of equality which depreciates the original and the unusual. It is widely held that the Law of Jante is a deeply embedded aspect of Scandinavian culture, and that it discourages brilliance and high achievements.”
One might argue that, the typical ‘Jante-mentality’ is very similar to the mind-set of people in any small village around the world. In such small villages everyone knows one another and one another’s business, there is a constant control of the ever present neighbour – spying, gossiping, judging, and criticising. Hence, in essence the Law of Jante could be considered as a Scandinavian version of the English ‘tall poppy syndrome’.
Characters of Jante introduces us to a number of individuals living in the fictional village of Jante, and shows us the sheer silence of the desolate landscapes that surround them.