Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite the later mutual hostility between Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Union, “Matryona’s House” has been a powerful influence on other Soviet writers. Although similar stories extolling rural virtues had already appeared by 1963, Solzhenitsyn’s story must be regarded as the paradigm of the new literary genre that came to be known as “village prose.” This genre is basically noninnovative in style while setting forth the sentimental philosophy of Slavophilism, or Russian nationalism. It appeals to the essential conservatism of Russians—including those at the helm of the Communist Party, who have tended to revive strictly Russian values as other national groups in the Soviet Union have increased in number relative to the Russian population.

In its details, Solzhenitsyn’s style reflects the larger Slavophile philosophy. For example, he strives to use only Russian words and to avoid all those of Western origin. One reason he rejects the collective farm is that it bears an ugly, Westernized name—“Torfoprodukt.”

Solzhenitsyn employs several motifs that act as omens of Matryona’s death: the mice and cockroaches rustling in the walls, the dismantling of the house, the death of the old woman’s cat, the coming of winter, and the several negative references to the railroad. When Matryona is finally killed by the train, one suddenly recognizes the parallel with Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886). In her...

(The entire section is 498 words.)