The Don Flows Home to the Sea is the last half of an immense historical novel, Tikhii Don. The novel follows a Don Cossack, Gregor Melekhov, from peacetime czarist Russia through the German-Russian War to the Russian Revolution and the civil war. Although the focal point of the novel is war, the cultural life of Cossack Russia—the roles of men and women in the agrarian family and their love for the land—is equally well portrayed. The length of the work enables a magnificent panorama of history to unfold.
Mikhail Sholokhov intensely loved the Don, the steppe, and the cycles of the seasons, and his poetic language beautifully captures the bond of the Cossacks with their land. Theirs is a peasant’s life. They are in tune with the wind, the coming of rain, the swelling and cracking of the frozen Don. Numerous scenes begin with painterly descriptions of landscape, subtle but insistent reminders that it is from the land that life comes. Death, undisguised, is omnipresent. Gory and detailed descriptions of the dying and of the dead are commonplace, but the Don and the steppe survive all tragedies. Sholokhov evokes the sights, sounds, and smells of that earthy existence so vividly that the pain of Cossack uprootedness is totally convincing. Young soldiers who fight valiantly near the Don are ineffectual, lifeless, on foreign soil; refugees wander aimlessly when forced to flee their Don home.
The Melekhov family and the other townspeople of Tatarsk are typical of agrarian society and culture. Roles within family units are assumed unquestioningly, although not always obediently. The head of the Melekhov household, old Pantaleimon Prokoffivich, Gregor’s father, is responsible for all who live under his roof: his wife, his sons, their wives and children, and his daughter until she marries. He is the patriarchal authority. Pantaleimon orders the marriage of Gregor and Natalia when he learns of Gregor’s affair with Aksinia; Gregor complies. Old Pantaleimon becomes confused about his authority over his sons, however, when their military ranks surpass his.
Pantaleimon expects and demands to be served and respected by women, who are, he assumes, his subordinates. In Cossack society, females are less valued than males and are...
(The entire section is 928 words.)