How does the novel illustrate social values and family structures?

1 Answer | Add Yours

teachsuccess's profile pic

teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Hello! You asked about social values and family structures in And Quiet Flows The Don.

This epic novel by Mikhail Sholokov earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1965. It is a starkly honest portrayal of the lives of Don Cossacks during WWI, the Russian Civil War and the Bolshevik Revolution. During the Russian Civil War, the White Don Cossack Army (anti-communist) fought the Red Army of the Bolsheviks (Communist).

The novel first introduces us to Prokofy Melekhov, a Don Cossack, who scandalizes his whole village when he marries a Turkish woman after the Crimean War. Because of this war, Russia loses key territories and power to an alliance of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, France, England and Sardinia. We are told that Prokofy's father never lives down the shame of his son's union.

All his life the old man refused to set foot inside his son's
house; he never got over the disgrace.

Sholokov's novel of materialistic idealism paints Don Cossack society as one which prizes loyalty, honesty, fidelity in marriage, the chastity of its women (whether married or single), and the military traditions of its men. Below, I will list some of the ways that Sholokov's novel illustrates the societal values and family structures of Don Cossack society.

1)Superstition

When Prokofy marries a Turkish captive, the whole community is incensed. Believing the worst of the woman, their frantic gossip approaches the pinnacle of hysteria and they plot to murder Prokofy's wife. Their malicious gossip is undergirded by the superstitious belief that any witch is cursed and must not be tolerated in their midst. In their minds, this alien Turkish captive must be a witch, for she has caused the Astakhov's cow to lose its milk and to die a cursed death.

Astakhov's daughter-in-law (the Astakhovs were Prokofy's nearest
neighbours) swore that on the second day of Trinity, before dawn, she had seen Prokofy's wife, barefoot, her hair uncovered, milking the Astakhovs' cow. Since then its udder had withered to the size of a child's fist, the cow had lost its milk and died soon after.

The villagers demand to put to death Prokofy's wife so that further calamities do not befall the rest of their livestock. The Don Cossack mingling of Orthodox faith and superstitious beliefs are portrayed honestly by Sholokhov.

2)Belief in the chastity of women/ the place of women in Don Cossack society

The chastity and purity of women are violently defended in this novel. Stepan, Aksinya's husband, beats her mercilessly when he finds out that she has been unfaithful with Grigory Melekhov while he has been away training. Even Pantalei, Grigory's father, threatens Grigory with violence should he continue in the affair.

"Stepan's our neighbour, and I won't have any mucking about with his woman. That kind of thing can lead to mischief, and I warn you beforehand, if I see you at it I'll flay the hide off you!"

Sholokov juxtaposes this husbandly violence with the protectiveness of individual husbands, wives, mothers and brothers for female relatives. For example, Prokofy defends his Turkish wife valiantly when the villagers come to murder her.

Prokofy flung off half a dozen Cossacks, burst into the house, and snatched a sabre from the wall.

Lushnya was heavy on his feet, and by the threshing-floor Prokofy caught up with him; with a diagonal sweep down across the left shoulder from behind, he clave the Cossack's body to the belt.

When Aksinya is raped by her father, her mother and older brother beat the father to death. Even the obedience of the wife to the husband has its limits in Don Cossack society.

He and his mother went on beating him steadily for an hour and a half. The ageing mother, who had always been an obedient wife, frenziedly tore at her unconscious husband's hair, the brother used his feet.

Towards evening he died. They told the neighbours he had fallen from the wagon.

Yet, women bear most of the burden of shame in matters of adultery.When Aksinya begs Grigory to help her deal with the ramifications of societal shame after their affair is discovered, Grigory coldly answers her:

"A dog doesn't worry an unwilling bitch."

3)Tradition and Personal Reputation

The folk songs of the novel tell us of life, faith and love in a Don Cossack village. We see the traditions religiously adhered to in Don Cossack society. The institution of marriage is greatly valued; each marriage is heavily negotiated by the father of the bridegroom and the father of the bride, with an elderly female relative as an intermediary, if necessary. If the prospective bride is not averse to the choice of bridegroom presented before her, the two sides will address each other as relatives, break bread together, and bring out the vodka to negotiate the dowry.

In Grigory's marriage with the hapless Natalya, Pantalei (Grigory's father) discusses terms of the dowry with Miron Grigoryevich (Natalya's father). The marriage is arranged in order to preserve the reputation of Grigory's parents in Don Cossack society. Knowing this, Miron unashamedly asks for an expensive dowry. He shrugs off Pantalei's assertion that it is Natalya who will have to work off the dowry if he persists in asking for such a sacrifice from Pantalei.

"It will be your daughter who'll work for it."

"Let her! But you must give the proper presents, otherwise there'll be no marriage!"

She's got plenty of clothes of her own, it's me you've got to show
respect for if you've taken a fancy to her. That's our Cossack custom. That's how it was of old, and we stick to the old ways."

I hope this helps. Thanks for the question!

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,980 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question