During the Cold War, the typical critical response to Socialist Realism in America was that the ideological demands of Socialist Realism prevented works of literature from being of high literary...

During the Cold War, the typical critical response to Socialist Realism in America was that the ideological demands of Socialist Realism prevented works of literature from being of high literary quality. Is this assessment true based on Russian Fairy tales?

What are some of the implications of Katerina Clark's use of Propp's theory as a model for the analysis of Socialist Realist narratives?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are a couple of moving parts to this questions.  We can try to break down each part to make a whole.  The first would be that the claim of Socialist Realism might have been invoked as part of a Cold War frame of reference to label Russian literature.  If one truly sought to blanket all of Russian literature in a Cold War paradigm, then they very well might still apply such a label to Russian Fairy Tales.  However, I think that Vladimir Propp and others who study the patterns of Russian Fairy Tales and see universal structures evident would argue that the label does not apply.  They would argue that Russian Fairy Tales transcend the idea of Socialist Realism. Part of this would lie in the very definition of Socialist Realism.  Katerina Clark makes the argument that Socialist Realism was literature that was geared towards authenticating the state:

The principal function of the Soviet socialist realist writer was to provide legitimizing myths for the state, to 'show the country its heroes.'  In consequence, the second cornerstone of socialist realism, together with partiinost, was the 'positive hero', an emblematic figure whose biography was to function as a model for readers to emulate.

While the typical critical response might have been to lump all Russian literature as examples of "Socialist Realism works," Clark's analysis suggests that Russian Fairy Tales do not fall into the Socialist Realism camp.  There is not a conscious attempt to develop a legitimization of the state in the Russian Fairy Tale.

It is from this basis that one could make the argument that Russian Fairy Tales can be seen as representative of high quality literary work.  Clark's contours of Socialist Realism forces one to see that Russian Fairy Tales do not fall into this construction.  She asserts that "Socialist Realism as such did not exist until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was almost fifteen years old." This would postdate the development of Russian Fairy Tales, making them lie outside of Socialist Realism.  This also makes them more likely to be seen as examples of literature with a higher caliber than the political leanings of Socialist Realism.  Additionally, Propp's theory as a model for the analysis of the Russian Fairy Tales does not see them as an extension of the state's authority.  There is little within Propp's analysis of the Russian Fairy Tale to suggest that their construction was made with the "positive hero" in mind. At the same time, the mode of analysis within the Russian Fairy Tale was more universal and not contingent on temporal conditions of authority.  In this light, an assessment of Russian Fairy Tales reveals them to be beyond Socialist Realism and more along the lines of work which embodies high literary quality.  Given the narrative structure that Propp sees within the Russian Fairy Tale, their literary merit would most likely transcend the conditions of literature generated within the Socialist Realism framework.

Along these lines, Clark's use of Propp's theory would substantiate the idea that the Russian Fairy Tale might be beyond the construction of Socialist Realist Narratives.  One of the implications of using Propp's theory would be to suggest that Russian Fairy Tales, and Propp's analysis of it, defy the development of the Stalinist novel:  

Propp asserts in his Morphology that any one of the thirty- one functions he lists in his table may be omitted in as given tale but that the order of functions is fixed.  This is not so in the Stalinist novel, where not only is the sequence very flexible within a given section of the plot, but a particular function may occur in a section other than the one in which it is listed here.

Using Propp's theory as a counter-model for the analysis of the Socialist Realist narratives helps to enhance the idea Russian Fairy Tales can be literature of a higher quality.  

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