In the text The Dragon by Evgeny Shvarts what are some of the specific moments (or even individual lines) from The Dragon that could be examples of Shvarts' use of Aesopian language? What is the...

In the text The Dragon by Evgeny Shvarts what are some of the specific moments (or even individual lines) from The Dragon that could be examples of Shvarts' use of Aesopian language? What is the apparent meaning of the example and what might be its hidden meaning? How does Shvarts manage to combine the two?

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

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The idea of Aesopian language is evident in Shvarts's The Dragon. Aesopian language is a means of communication designed to outwit the Soviet censors that sought to limit artistic expression.  Aesopian language used symbols, allegory and figurative constructions to convey and communicate meaning:

In short, this form of literature, like Aesop's animal fables, veils itself in allegorical suggestions, hints, and euphemisms so as to elude political censorship. 'Aesopian language' or literature is a technical term used by Sovietologists to define allegorical language used by Russian or nationality nonconformist publicists to conceal antiregime sentiments. Under Soviet rule, this 'Aesopian' literature intended to confuse the Soviet authorities, yet illuminate the truth for native readers.

Symbolism and purpose are critical elements of Aesopian language. Shvarts's story possesses many such examples of this type of linguistic development. One example would be the premise of the drama.  Lancelot, the prototypical hero, seeks to do battle with "the dragon."  This very idea is Aesopian in scope because an outsider would see it as representing something lyrical, almost like a fairytale.  However, such fantastic elements are undercut with the reality that the dragon is a beast that must be confronted, reflective of the Soviet government form of control that suppresses expression and artistic endeavor. Its apparent fairytale meaning covers a subversive and distinct political one.  In this way, the drama's premise is Aesopian because it articulates a condition of political struggle under its surface.  In combining both, Shvarts is able to create a piece that can be appreciated on multiple levels.

As the narrative develops, Shvarts's use of language is Aesopian.  When Lancelot confronts the dragon, it is clear that the beast he seeks to defeat is an entrenched bureaucratic reality that withers the soul and resolve of human beings:

You see, the human soul is very resilient. Cut the body in half — and the man croaks. But tear the soul apart — and it only becomes more pliable, that's all. No, really, you couldn't pick a finer assortment of souls anywhere. Only in my town. Souls with no hands. Souls with no legs. Mute souls, deaf souls, chained souls, snitch souls, damned souls.

The apparent meaning of the text is to communicate how individuals can be destroyed in the clutches of the dragon.  The hidden meaning reflects Shvarts's call to action that Soviet control must be overcome and that its effect on citizens is to "tear the soul apart."  The Aesopian language communicates to the outsider the struggle of Lancelot versus the Dragon, while the insider recognizes the targeting of the Soviet power structure.  When Lancelot understands that he has to embrace a "very meticulous job" and that "We have to kill the dragon in each one of them," it is another instance of Aesopian language.  Shvarts uses lexical constructions that communicate one meaning layered upon a hidden and political mode of communication underneath.  In combining the two meanings through Aesopian language, Shvarts is able to create a work that resonates in both domains.  

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