He was young and unused to the sudden helplessness, he sat still most of the time, and if he needed to move around the room he used his hands and bounced himself from chair to chair. He worked on trying to find himself a new career, it was a strange way to pass the time for a born seaman, and sometimes he just stopped up in sheer wonderment. Him, finished. Him, a cripple! For the present he might get himself a boat and catch enough fish for the household. He’d had an unfortunate accident, his body indisputably and irrevocably flawed; but once he’d got over this gangrenous leg of his and its aftermath, well then, there was still a great deal of him left, a net force of strength. (The Women at the Pump, 1920)
Hamsun’s vitalism (from the Latin vita: life) is evident in the positive terms he employs to describe someone having a sound, strong physique.
The preferred body in Hamsun’s literary world is the working body, such as Isak of Sellanraa is described as having. A frail, refined body, for example, like that of Eleseus in Growth of the Soil (1917), is its negative opposite. The crude descriptions of the physical decline of old age are also negative, with the most striking examples being those of the two old men, Mons and Fredrik Mensa, in Benoni (1908). And yet the deformed or damaged body can also signify mental strength and power, as is the case with the Midget in Mysteries (1892), Oliver in The Women at the Pump (1920), and Anton Moss in Chapter the Last (1923).
Steven Holl, architect of the Hamsun Centre in Hamarøy, has said of the building that it is "…like a body, a battlefield for invisible forces”.