In the stories ”The Cute Little Redhead” and “Silky Hair” by Nina Sadur:
- What references to the folk beliefs can you find in these contemporary tales? Why do you think the author repeats them in a modern setting? What does this combination – modern women, ancient beliefs – offer to the reader? Why approach these subjects of jealousy in this way, as opposed to more modernistic plot devices? What else struck you about the deployment of fairy tale motifs in these stories?
- How do these stories depict life in post-Soviet Russia? Why do you think these authors turned to traditional folk culture for inspiration? Do these stories have a political message? Can they be considered to be feminist?
One of the recurring folk beliefs that exists in Sadur's stories is the presence of an evil, supernatural force that lies beyond rational calculation. There is an evil which lurks in both stories. It is not easily accounted for, but it is there. Sadur brings this out in the titular character of Natashka's narrative and it is equally present in a mother fighting for the life of her child. The traditional folk belief in an evil presence in the world is an essential component of both stories.
In both settings, modern women must confront a universal condition of malevolence and evil. Sadur recognizes a world where there is not necessarily a restorative notion of the good. She sees a world where individuals must be vigilant for the forces of evil that lurk and walk amongst them. To a great extent, this recurring folk belief is reflective of Sadur's own world. Sadur asserted in an interview that what gave her the most fear was "her neighbors and the bad things they might do." This shows how Sadur finds the folk element of supernatural evil in reality. It accompanies the individual in daily life.
It is for this reason that Sadur depicts a world where heroines are pitted against evil. They are modern women who must face evil in their own lives. Sadur uses this combination to reflect political reality, while almost going beyond it. On one hand, there is a socio-political component to what is being depicted. Both stories feature women with agency. Evil does not trap both and render them without voice. Rather, the presence of malevolence is something to be actively confronted. Critics read Natashka's experiences with what is described as an "other worldly" element that acts as preparation and transition for marriage, where she passes from youthful ignorance to worldly and mature experience. In "Silky Hair," the mother does not succumb to the presence of "the other." She does not acquiesce. Rather, she embarks on a quest to save the life of her child and, in the process, replicates barbarism herself. In both settings, Sadur is able to straddle a modern condition in which women are able to take action and possess agency, as well as a more ancient archetype where there is evil in the world. To be a woman in this world is to actively understand and confront the evil that is present. Approaching the subjects in this manner enables Sadur to stake out a very intricate position regarding a women's sense of being in the world. Such a combination of modern women within a structure of ancient beliefs affirms the strength of women in a world where challenges to their agency are unavoidable. There is a feminist element present, however I think that Sadur is too complex and intricate to simply provide a totalizing solution in feminine agency.
Sadur's stories are also able to embrace an interesting reality in post-Soviet Russia. One of the most dominant elements that both stories share is how a sense of insecurity and doubt plagues individual consciousness. Sadur is able to illuminate the evil in the world as an almost existential construction. No matter what one does, evil exists and understanding its function in consciousness is the best one can do. In terms of what both stories feature, eliminating it through faith is not an acceptable solution for Sadur. In post-Soviet Russia, this acquires even more significance. With the fall of Communism, the initial presupposition is that a unified condition of being would emerge. This "happy ending" to the supposed nightmare of communism was a part of the fall of the Iron Curtain. However, both stories consciously suggest that political totality cannot eliminate the condition of evil that seems to be intrinsic to being in the world. Sadur's stories remind individuals to be wary of the presence of evil even in a world where leaders affirm that optimism and restoration are the natural consequences of the previous regime's departure. In being able to undermine political totality in favor of a world view where insecurity and doubt are present, Sadur's works become political. She is reminding the individual to be wary of the evil in the world, equally present in the "neighbors and the bad actions they might do." This cuts through political affiliation and evokes a paradigm where evil is a part of the human landscape, combining Sadur's modern characters with a fascination with ancient and folk beliefs.