is Søren Wammen`s illustration of author Aksel Sandemose`s story
“The law of Jante”
from the novel A fugitive crosses his tracks.
The law of Jante / Janteloven
-is the idea that there is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities that negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Dano–Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. In his novel A fugitive crosses his tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933, English translation published in the USA in 1936) he identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. Sandemose’s novel portrays the small Danish town Jante (modelled upon his native town Nykøbing Mors as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but typical of all small towns and communities), where nobody is anonymous.
Generally used colloquially in Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries as a sociological term to negatively describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.
There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.
The ten rules state:
- You’re not to think you are anything special.
- You’re not to think you are as good as we
- You’re not to think you are smarter than we
- You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we
- You’re not to think you know more than we
- You’re not to think you are more important than we
- You’re not to think you are good at anything.
- You’re not to laugh at us.
- You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
- You’re not to think you can teach us
These ten principles or commandments are often claimed to form the “Jante’s Shield” of the Scandinavian people.
In the book, the Janters who transgress this unwritten ‘law’ are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against the town’s communal desire to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity.
An eleventh rule recognized in the novel as ‘the penal code of Jante’ is:
- Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?
The Law today
Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante, a group of people of the same social position. He expressedly stated in later books that the social norms of Jante were universal and not intended to depict any particular town or country. It should be understood that Sandemose was seeking to formulate and describe attitudes that had already been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for centuries. Today, however, it is common in Scandinavia to claim the Law of Jante as something quintessentially Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.
Later, the meaning of The Law of Jante was extended to refer to those who want to break out of their social groups and reach a higher position in society in general.
Mixed media: The law of Jante / Janteloven
Width: 38 cm. x Height: 46 cm.
Privatly owned by: Monica W. Nortvedt