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To know what a person has

done, and to know who a

person is, are very
different things
Sketching a brief tale of a womans struggle in
establishing her real identity leading up to her execution,
Hannah Kent in her novel, Burial Rites, displays how
Agnes Magnusdottir is misunderstood on the basis of the
act she has committed instead of being understood for her
inner personality and situations that led to the unfortunate
incidents. Agness conviction for the murder of Nathan
Ketilsson which although lawfully a criminal act, indeed
made it difficult for people to look past the exterior and try
to understand her motives and realize that her action was
one of goodwill as she aimed to ease his pain despite the
mental and physical torture that he posed upon her. Agnes
tries to change their mind by talking to the family she is
staying with and telling them that there is another side to
the cruel and forbidding story they have heard. Agnes also
has sessions with Toti her revered who is there to
understand her and listen to her, although Agnes only tells
him certain things at first as she lacks trust in him,
however she does slowly starts opening up. Thus, perhaps,
it is Kents intention to display that ones identity depends
on the stories of others.
Agnes was a disposable commodity in the eyes of the
community, well before she even committed any crime, as
Agnes was an urchin she wasnt well respected. The
people of Iceland perceived Agnes as a landless work
maid raised on porridge of moss and poverty (p.52).
Agnes was an illegitimate child (p.94) therefore she was
perceived as the devils child (p.35). Also having her mum
abandoned her at the age of five and living with her foster
parents who also abandoned her. Agnes felt as though she
was Left to the mercy of others whether they had any or
no (p.155) meaning that she was left on the village
people good will and compassion to help her which
unfortunately no one had, she was an outcast she was
seen as a burden on the families of the village she wasnt
clean and pure, her destiny was decided for her the day

that she was born. Thus perhaps it was Kents intention to

show that in this society you are depicted based on the
power and strength that you have rather than compassion
and love.
The towns people didnt understand Agnes I was two
dead men. I was a burning farm. I was a knife. I was blood.
(p.35) they would go based of the stories they have
heard about her. Sometimes they tie my legs together...
to ensure that I will not run away (p.29) This just shows
how narrow minded these people were as they had so
little trust in her they had to treat her like an animal, she
wasnt perceived anymore as a person she more treated
like a monster, their treatment towards her was inhumane.
Agnes however when she was confirmed she was seen as
having an excellent intellect, and strong knowledge and
understanding of Christianity (p.33). This would work
against Agnes as when the town people found out this
they would know that Agnes knew right from wrong and
been a Christian youre not meant to kill anyone.
Therefore the towns people showed no sympathy towards
her and didnt even want to try and understand her or
show any compassion towards her. The only person that
truly tries to understand Agnes is Toti, Toti recognized that
Agnes needed a sympathetic listener rather than a heavyhanded preacher, he encourages Agnes to tell her story.
Perhaps it is Kents intention to show us that a person of
God had to try and understand her and try to sympathize
with her and show mercy towards her.
Nathan poses emotional and physical torture on Agnes, as
he sees her as a lonely soul who is easily manipulated and
vulnerable to his every wish. Nathan and Agnes had a lot
of disputes Did not trust the words in our own mouths.
(p.220) from early in their relationship they lacked trust in
each other and Nathan didnt care about Agness
reputation, he just wanted his enjoyment. Nathan never
answered the question that Agnes possed upon him do
you love me Nathan? He called her a cheap sort of
women. Nathan dragged her out into the snow naked,
she spent that night in the shed. This just shows how
manipulative Nathan was and how he treated Agnes like

an animal rather than a human he never cared about he,

he was a very selfish person. Everyone thinks Agnes is the
one to blame for his murder when in reality she was the
one who eased his pain no matter what he put her through
and deep down she did love him and couldnt stand to see
him in pain however in that society it was her act against
Nathan who was a well-known doctor and herbalist she
was just a poor pauper living in poverty there was chance
that the towns people would ever show understanding and
forgiveness towards her, she was a dead women. Thus,
perhaps it is Kents intention to showcase that the superior
people and people with titles will always have more power
over the less fortunate in society.
It was Kents intention to show that to know what a
person has done and to know who a person is, are two
very different things Agnes was convicted for the murder
of Nathan Ketilsson people couldnt look past this criminal
act and couldnt understand the motives and decisions for
the reason of committing this act. A persons identity
depends on the perception of others and their socioeconomic background.