Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1901, Maxim Gorky began to think about writing a novel tracing several generations of a Russian bourgeois family. It was more than twenty years before he actually published this work. In 1916, the publication of the novel was announced, only for Gorky to postpone writing it until after the October Revolution. Not until 1925, while living in Italy, did Gorky actually complete the novel, which depicts the beginning of industrial development in Russia, its brief fluorescence, and its downfall under the blows of the Bolshevik Revolution.

A former serf, Ilya Artamonov, the founder of the dynasty, is a typical representative of the newly born Russian merchant class. He builds a linen factory in a small provincial town of Dromov despite the hostility and apprehension of the townspeople. Energetic and self-confident, he neither looks back nor wastes his time. He goes forward, destroying all obstacles to his goal, and becomes the richest factory owner in his district. When Ilya dies, his sons take over and expand the business. Ultimately, however, the pattern is one of decline. Partly this is because of his sons’ lack of vision, but mainly it is because of the impending revolution. Pyotr, as the oldest son, heads the factory, but he lacks Ilya’s enthusiasm or passion for work. He carries on the business as a heavy duty but does not really understand the purpose of his hard work. Although the factory prospers, Pyotr’s alienation from his wife, children, and brothers grows. Trapped by the routines of life, unable to comprehend the political changes around him, he finds consolation in drinking and debauchery. His brother Nikita spends most of his life in the monastery, telling beautiful lies to pilgrims who seek his advice. When he discovers that there is nothing spiritual or sacred even in the monastery, he returns home to die.

Unlike his brothers, Alexey is full of energy and new ideas. He is interested in art and education, in the political and social life of the country. Always on the run, he is a real capitalist, a proprietor who believes in the power of millions of Russian men and in the possibility of creating a new Russian capitalist economy. His son Miron is also totally absorbed in the political and social issues of the day. He plans not only to become head of the business but to play an important political role...

(The entire section is 958 words.)