Major Department



College of Liberal Arts & Sciences


BA (Bachelor of Arts)

Session and Year of Graduation

Fall 2016

Honors Major Advisor

Marie Kruger

Thesis Mentor

Jonathan Wilcox


This thesis explores the complex and arguably under-examined written oral narrative, Elias Lönnrot’s the Kalevala. It is the national epic of Finland, a compiled work of both medieval oral and 19th-century written tradition. This thesis examines how the Kalevala works as a national epic and what makes it so distinct, including exploration of the problematic hero, the role of women, and familial norms within the text. The Kalevala, as it survives, is a 19th-century written work based on the traditional folk songs of Finland and surrounding Karelian areas. Furthermore, through examining issues of oral transmission in relation to the text, I argue how Lönnrot’s 19th-century motivation to shape this piece as his nation’s epic influences the way modern readers interpret the challenging themes the Kalevala encompasses. Primarily, I discuss the Kalevala’s themes of heroism by criticizing the actions and motivation of the epic’s primary hero, Väinämöinen. Following this, I explore possible gender and familial norms within the society of the Kalevala, predominantly those present in the Kullervo cycle. Sexuality and expectations are complex and recurring themes throughout the story, as the problematic hero, the lack of women’s voice, and the absence of fathers plays a crucial role in how sexuality works within the text. Finally, I discuss the importance of the Kalevala in modern Finnish society, regardless of Lönnrot’s 19th-century inspiration. I hope to show readers the distinctive contributions this piece brings to the discussion of medieval oral literature while simultaneously showing the significance of the Kalevala in the Finnish imagination today.


Kalevala, Finland, Medieval, Epic, Finnish culture, Medieval and metal music, Lönnrot, Carolyn, Brugman

Total Pages

41 pages


Copyright © 2016 Carolyn Brugman