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Ola and Per strips

Self-actualising Sides to Ola and Per

Ola and Per's putative scores as self-actualisers.

Ola and Per are the two main characters in a Norwegian-American slapstick strip by Peter Julius Rosendahl. The strip has been popular among Norwegian Americans for about ninety years.

Just as a seedling tries to fulfill its inborn patterns and designs, so human beings strive to fulfill inner sides to themselves to some degree - some more than others. If you want to be a fully functioning person (Rogers), a self-actualiser (Maslow), Ola and Per may serve to show what is meant by a self-actualiser. We may compare them to ourselves for fun, if we wish.

It is better for getting an intuitive understanding of this page to read a good sample of strips first.

The following series of self-actualisation aspects is extracted from a chapter in Abraham Maslow's Toward a Psychology of Being. Feel free to study yourself and others near to you in the light of it, but take the items with a grain of salt. Maslow's list of items is far from conclusive. Still, what is there could give good help in the form of hints or "nudges".

Applied to the Norwegian-American strip Han Ola og han Per, one may estimate at least some of the strip's self-actualisation strengths in the light of such a list and other corollary lists that Maslow has furnished. Hence, for each item below a number is allotted to show what I credit the strip with, aspect after aspect, through all the 16 parts. The tentative, phenomenological Likert scale ranges from 1 to 5, with 5 as the top value. The scores are informal, subjective, and are explained only meagrely.


1. HARMONIOUS INTEGRATION failed for the clowns. It could be that to the degree readers laugh at and entertained over the problems and troubles of others, year after year, they harbour such deep problems themselves, although unaware of some of them. That is one reason why people laugh at others.
    Score 1: They do learn to speak more English as they keep on accommodating year in and year out. Per and Polla do manage to keep married, but the others have such great problems with it that the average is near nil to me.

2. FUSING WITH THE WORLD AROUND HIM. The characters' ability to fuse with the world is inappropriate, which makes Per squander his wealth, go exploring without the needed funds for it, and so on. They form a gang that is in no small opposition to others, including Native Americans, cannibals, and the sheriff also. This is to say that elements of the New World, formerly not-self, are hardly becoming synergic to them. As lovers among themselves they are having severe problems too. Ola's wife is hardly ever present; she kicks him; Per and Polla split up a few times, she throws an axe at his head and so on; Lars and his wife have a violent marriage too. This suggests that as lovers they do not succeed too well in forming good units that transcend the origins of each individual. We laugh at their repeated failures in establishing appropriate fusions among themselves and with others in their New World – which is a formidable task.
    Score 2: Norwegian Americans are not automatically talked down on. That is a good starting-point and something that is normally worth putting forth effort toward.The ethnic cohesion of Norwegian Americans has been far above average as well, but still they have lost almost all contact with their original culture and roots, most of them, and see themselves as middle-class Americans today. [1]

3. MORE ABLE. Persons at their peak of his powers may feel "fully functioning", a term from Carl R. Rogers. At their peak they are more perceptive. Can Per's brother Lars be said to get peak experiences because of his long education? Does Per experience some peaking as an inventor and airplane pilot? Do Ola and Per peak when finding a pot of gold? If so, they cannot handle it all right. or perhaps they live out some profound philosophy of life as reflected in the reply of a sailor who, when asked what he had done with his pay, said, "Part went for liquor and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly." Did Per's wife Polla peak when giving birth to their daughter Dada? Does Vζrmor (mother-in-law) ever peak at all? The characters' dire lacks of functioning full well in their new sets of circumstances are sources of laughter. It is part of what makes them laughing-stocks and gradually endearing too. [2]
    Score 4:

4. FUNCTIONING WITH (MORE) EASE. It stands out that "fluency" "graceful gaiety", and "quite effortless actualisations" form aspects of our "label 5". Per strives towards less efforts through machinery and technological gadgets. It makes him more sympathetic, and seems to be the real foundation for his becoming a folk hero.
    Score 3:

5. CENTERED AND CREATIVE. The person in peak-experiences is the creating centre of his activities and feels more like a prime mover - his own boss, of "free will" ... responsible. The free will of these independent farmers – notably on Per's initiatives - takes them toward the north pole and into many exotic adventures – and the city dump. Their free-will adventures tend to make them folk heroes too, in my opinion.
    Score 2:

6. FREE FROM UNWHOLESOME INHIBITIONS AND BLOCKS: Being free of blocks, inhibitions, and brakes may end with a crash. Free from blocks and inhibitions they wallop one another, shoot at others, use dynamite, go travelling through the air, on water, much without needed instructions, and most of their adventures end on a note of calamity. This aspect of liberation – freedom from blocks – which can be good to some - go along with "freedom from forethought", which seldom works for good in a technologically dependent community like ours.
    Score 5:

7. SPONTANEOUS, RELAXED, GUILENESS, AND SIMPLE. You have to be strong to be spontaneous and sincere, and maybe for attaining simple enough basic handling or dealings too. I would say the endearing farmer couples score high in this respect. Per reflects many such aspects of the Norwegian American, or perhaps it is just the simple, inventive farmer. Maslow tells this aspect of self-realization – which looms tall in lanky Per – makes for more guilelessness, more simplicity, and more frank freedom – enough to try to get rid of Per's more than annoying mother-in-law too. Both Ola and Mari succeed in throwing her out of their home. Ola walloping opponents is another example of simple guileless spontaneity – but could it be that higher sides to spontaneity missing? Naturalness is not only brutish? It is natural to enjoy leisure, the sight and smell of flowers, and a lovely scenery too.
    It also stands out that the word 'simple' often is used on something lovely, yet utterly complex, as in nervously transmitted impulses that affect glands and mobilizes "fight, fright, and flight" reactions through adrenaline and body-eye coordinations of many sorts. A "simple reflex" is in fact much complex. A delicate flower can contain its own chemical factory that produces up to a hundred and more chemicals on a minor space, without polluting a bit. It smells well, looks lovely, and has intriguing adaptations to other forms of life too. It may be the word "simple" disguises what is truly the case. The "simple farmer families" in the strip may likewise have complex and elevated principles to stand on, although in rudimentary forms due to transplantations.
    Score 2:

8. PERCEIVING AND RELATING FRESHLY AND BETTER: "His cognition and his behaviour ... can mold itself without being rehearsed ... It is therefore undriven in time," asserts Maslow. For example, when Ola comes home one day and finds Vζrmor threatening to wallop his wife Mari, he throws Vζrmor out of the house at once, literally. Getting rid of nasty ones when it is time for it, depends on perceiving and acting with self-confidence, maybe improvised and unrehearsed, and seldom premeditated. There are many instances of fresh-looking perceptions throughout the strip. Per's gadgets, contraptions and machinery all bear on the perceptions that technological outfit is needed to make life livable in America, or better. Further, the many new ways of coping and dealing with farm animals reflect at least the drive toward relating in novel ways, which can lead "upwards" too. Buckley holds a far more pessimistic view than it, but maybe she has forgotten the faithful service of the washing-machine and refrigerator in so doing? One neat idea is that it is best to adjust to one's own benefit, if you can handle things and possessions. Many of such sides to the art of living can be learnt. In fact, quite a lot is taught in public school, for example domestic science, cookery classes, and further.
    Score 3:

9. THE INDIVIDUAL FLAIR looms up in the shape of idiosyncrasy, individuality, and uniqueness, as the case may be.
      What is called individuality takes time to blossom and mature, for it unfolds on its own terms, perhaps through stages, and perhaps only meagrely, if visible at all. Like other forms of blossoming results depends on the quality of the seed – the individuality – the soil, and the conditions. Different seasons of life need to be well timed, according to the psychodynamic theory of Erik H. Erikson. One may perhaps suspect individual flairs to come somewhat better to the fore late in life, as fruits in the fall, but that would depend on how successful the sum of stages and other parts of expressing would have been earlier. Severe blocks are possible, and broken branches, being nipped in the bud, and so on. Yet, for the lack of unfolded uniqueness – more or less – general thriving and vivacity can be reduced correspondingly. [3]
    The uniqueness of artist painters serves to show that what is called unique, is really little in comparison to what is common all along. The large bush – for example an ethnic group of farmers – may get a few flowers that excel other flowers, but, really, they share the same roots, many branches and leaves, and blossom in pretty much the same way, according to fundamental pattern - or methods and materials, as is the case in the world of art. Uniqueness seems grossly overestimated according to this, but should all the same be allowed its fair share, like the blossom that slowly is turned fruitful and capable of giving joy to many, in some cases. In other words, common adaptations should allow for higher stages of functioning; these higher stages are not antagonistic to the "bush" of communality, even if they may be spectacular, but can fulfil vital functions in in the larger picture. For the lack of blossoming individuality and uniqueness around, life becomes tedious and boring. Little is really original, but it may be no small deal anyhow, and not easy to carry through either, because it deviates from conformism.
    Many of Per's more or less bizarre home inventions have a unique ring to them, his lifestyle likewise.
    Score 2: There is no strip like it.

10. GREATER FREEDOM FROM CONDITIONING also means being without contaminations, expectations, and fears, and less negative comparisons by being more alive and awake in the on-going here-now. Now the person may listen in far better, but maybe not completely like the actor who listens to the famous rough collie Lassie barking, and then seems to understand, "What is it, Lassie? A boy fell down a mine shaft and broke his ankle and is diabetic and needs insulin? Is THAT what you're trying to tell me?"
    Score 3:

11. GREAT PURITY WITH MORE PERMISSIVE LIVING AND ENJOYABLE RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE REALITY-RICH. "I can grasp the non-self best by non-grasping, i.e., by letting it be itself, by letting it go," asserts Maslow., and "I become most purely myself when I emancipate myself". I doubt the fitness of this composite category by Maslow, but agree on a derived axiom that "reality-rich inner purity may function well in relationships too," if both parties are inwardly rich that way.
    The strip's two farmer protagonists Ola and Per definitely work to make it on their own. However, the farmers cannot afford to loosen their grip – for example by letting animals and haying go, inasmuch as their fives depend on the work they do. So farmers and householders can hardly ever escape the grasping, and many that say they renounce the world for God, they do not really let go of gripping – be it their crucifixes, holy orders, their cloister walls – whatever. What is the case is that most renouncers – anchorites excepted – exchange common circumstances for other and often more restrictive ones. Be that as it may, Norwegian Americans are hardly worse than other ethnic groups, but rather better when it comes to egalitarian values and manners. [4]
    Score 2:

12. SOVEREIGN GLADNESS OF HEART. Maslow's deficiency needs are taken care of, so that ordinary needs are not so stressing. Gladness in Being results. very illuminating amusements and humor. This level of functioning is not the same as the unmotivated goings of a drunkard.
    Score 1:

13. POETIC, RHAPSODIC, MYTHICAL EXPRESSIONS. Maslow: "More authentic persons may, by that very fact, become more like poets, artists, musicians, prophets, etc." You may wonder what his "etc." covers. Per cites Norwegian song lyrics, Lars writes poetry.
    Score 3:

14. FINISHING WELL. Excellent completions are linked to the hidden self-identity some way or other. There seem to be no finale, or that sort of grand completion for the farmers on a large scale, since most of them go to Norway on vacation, and the strip stops there.
    Score 1:

15. PLAYFULNESS. Playful man, also called homo ludens, is the amused integrator that aspires little, but excels in time anyway. " I very strongly feel that playfulness of a certain kind is one of the B-values," says Maslow. There is something good-humoured to it. Hence, a certain playfulness or good-natured humour may be very mature, and yet seem innocently childlike. [5]
    Score 3:

16. FEELING GRACED. Surprised by sheer luck, at times giving praise, or feeling great love, perceiving the world as beautiful, and good. The characters at times experience good luck, as when they come across a pancake tree on a little island they are stranded on. Also, in their poverty and need toward the end of the strip, Per and Ola find gold and get surprised and rich. Per buys machines, but their happy days are soon over, due to unwise spending by Per and unlucky placement of the money (Ola).
    Score 1:

The Strip as a Whole

The summary chart is a visualization of the average scores just given. These Being-linked entries could very well represent the degrees of so-called great humor in the strip, the kind of humor one may see glimpses of in it here and there. The abridgements involved serve easier surveys, and my allotted scores yield an averaged "high-leveled humor score" of about 2,4.

Strengths of the strip are in my opinion expressions of freedom from unhealthy inhibitions and blocks (no. 6) and showing the steady efforts to get abler in handling conditions different from those of the homeland (no. 3).
    The relative weaknesses are the lack of harmonious integration throughout (no. 1), the notorious lack of happiness that is quite independent of gold and mammon and the lack of cosy thriving throughout. The characters are often found fighting one another or someone else (no. 12). The strip as a whole seldom shows thoroughly successful conclusions or solutions (no. 14). Instead episode after episode ends in disasters, explosions – which are not marks of finishing well. Finally, factor 16 indicates subjectively that these "strugglers" rarely give vent to feelings of being wonderfully blessed when far away from Norway.


Ola and Per as Self-actualisers, Literature  

Mieder, Wolfgang (main ed.), Stewart A. Kingsbury, and Kelsie E. Harder. A Dictionary of American Proverbs. (Paperback) New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Rosendahl, Peter J. Han Ola og Han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie, edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984 (Original printed in the Decorah-Posten).

Rosendahl, Peter J. More han Ola og han Per. A Norwegian-American Comic Strip. En norsk-amerikansk tegneserie. Edited by Joan N. Buckley and Einar Haugen. Bilingual Edition. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1988.


  1. The opposite of general acceptance is expressed by such as ""Never trust an Indian" and much worse. That forms part of minority-biting. [Mieder et al, 329]
  2. Fuller No. 2432.
  3. Erikson 1995, 1997.
  4. Lovoll 1998, 164, 168.
  5. Ramakrishna 207.

The material is from a major thesis in "American Civilization: Norwegian Immigrant History", at the University of Trondheim:

Kinnes, Tormod. The Humor of Han Ola og han Per Taken Seriously. Major Thesis in American Civilization. The English Section at the Department of Foreign Modern Languages. NTNU, Trondheim, Spring 2007.

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