Essays and Criticism
"Night" as a Metaphor for the Psychological Challenges
Tatyana Tolstaya's "Night" was published in Sleepwalker in a Fog, a collection of short stories in which, according to Michiko Kakutani in her review published in the New York Times, all Tolstaya's characters ‘‘indulge in wistful daydreams.’’ Backing up this view is David Plante, also writing a review in the New York Times. But Plante adds that ' 'the dreams, and the characters lost like sleepwalkers in their own dreams’’ all have to do with the historical and moral reality of Russia. Plante is referring to the suppression, and sometimes persecution, of the people's voice by the Russian government. Although it might have been Tolstaya's intention to write this story as a statement against her government's attempts at suppression, it is also possible to put a more general spin on her story and to read ''Night'' as a metaphor for the struggle that a writer (any writer whether inside Russia or elsewhere) undergoes during the creative process. Instead of the writer's voice being suppressed by a government force, it can often be suppressed by the writer's own rational mind.
Looking at Tolstaya's story in this light, Alexei Petrovich, who is portrayed as a man with many difficulties dealing with the world outside of his head, could represent the writer. As a matter of fact, Alexei eventually admits that he wants to be a writer, thus strengthening this premise. For Alexei, the outside world is a place where it is ''very hard to remember what's good and what's bad. They've set up and agreed upon written Rules that are awfully complicated.’’ His comments relate to the feelings that people sometimes experience when they get caught in a writer's block—a state of mind that causes an inability to write. Writer's block can be caused by many different reasons. One of the reasons that the imagination might fail to create something viable on paper is that the writer becomes too conscious of the rules of writing and grammar. The writer then focuses on rules instead of letting the creative thoughts flow. Other reasons may be that the writer becomes overwhelmed by how an audience might respond to the work or gets too distracted about the details of finding a publisher. These elements represent the so-called outside world for the writer and correspond very nicely with the comments of Tolstaya's character Alexei Petrovich.
Inside Alexei's head is ‘‘the real world.’’ It is there that ‘‘everything is allowed.’’ This inside world can be likened to the imagination, where there are no rules, no preconceived ideas of what is good or bad. But life in the outside world is difficult for Alexei. To function in the outside world, he needs his "Mamochka," his mother. Mamochka represents order. Continuing with the concept of the metaphor, Mamochka could represent the rational mind that gives order to the imagination. Mamochka figures out the rules for Alexei, mends his ways, keeps him plodding through his day. She ''knows everything, can do everything, gets in everywhere.'' She is all powerful in the outside world.
Alexei looks to his Mamochka to guide him, but he does not turn off his inside view of the world. Although he awakens to the day from his night dreams, he still has his daydreams or his own imaginative perceptions of the outside world. For instance, he refers to the part of the morning when people are stirring and getting ready for work as a time when ‘‘the morning ship has left the slip.’’ In other words, although he relies on Mamochka, he does not turn off his own thought patterns. In this way, the writer, too, must learn to allow the imagination to offer its unique view of the world, creating metaphors like the ship leaving the slip. The imagination must also allow the rational mind to guide it, as Alexei allows his Mamochka to guide him. The imaginative part of the mind needs the language skills of the rational mind. It is through the process of the imagination working with the rational mind that a piece of writing is brought forth and completed. If the imagination of a writer were allowed full reign, the resulting writing would be gibberish— no grammatical rules, no syntax, no sense. If Alexei did not have his Mamochka, he too might represent not much more than gibberish. He must be constantly told what to do or he makes no sense.
Alexei asks, whimsically: ‘‘Why aren't you allowed to make your lips into a tube, cross your eyes to look at your mouth, and smell yourself?’’ Then he adds: ‘‘Let Mamochka turn her back.’’ Tolstaya is implying here that when the rational mind has its figurative back...
(The entire section is 1878 words.)