Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dominating the first part of the story is Gorky’s sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden workers in Russia. His initial description of the bakers accentuates the oppressive effects that a life of relentless toil can have on the human spirit. His pretzel makers seem barely human. Deprived of sunlight and freedom, they have nothing to say to one another, and they do not even have the energy to curse one another. Even their songs, which are the only vehicle of transcendence or release that they possess, are permeated with the sorrow and yearning of slaves.

Complementing Gorky’s compassion for the oppressed is his anger toward the oppressor. The pretzel makers’ boss is never seen in the story. He seems to exist as an invincible force who has placed numerous restrictions on the workers but who does not deign even to visit them. Instead, the huge stove which looms so large in the bakery stands as a silent emblem for the boss and his rapacious, insatiable appetite. All he cares for is productivity: during the two-week period in which the workers were preoccupied with the dandy’s pursuit of Tanya, the boss managed to increase their work by an additional five hundred pounds of flour a day.

Gorky’s story offers more than an exposé of difficult working conditions in pre-revolutionary Russia. His treatment of the complex emotional attitude demonstrated by the workers toward Tanya reveals a sensitive understanding of human psychology. In the...

(The entire section is 505 words.)