My First Goose Style and Technique

Isaac Babel

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite the rich, multileveled significance of “My First Goose,” style plays as great a role as meaning, and certain images are perhaps more memorable than any given idea. For example, there is the initial description of the beautiful giant Savitsky, ending with the line, “His long legs were like girls sheathed to the neck in shining riding boots.” The erotic imagery could suggest a Freudian sexual element within the narrator’s admiration of the Cossacks—all the more so as the story ends with a description of the narrator sleeping with the Cossack soldiers: “our legs intermingled. I dreamed: and in my dreams saw women.” It is more likely, however, that erotic imagery is simply a casual motif in this story, as it is in other stories from Red Cavalry. Such imagery is commonly found in Russian fiction of the relatively liberal and experimental 1920’s. The vivid literary imagery of that period, erotic or not, is often characterized as “ornamentalism.”

Another “ornamental” image in “My First Goose” is the following, occurring early in the story: “The dying sun, round and yellow as a pumpkin, was giving up its roseate ghost to the skies.” Possibly the dying sun suggests the coming sacrifice—all the more so as the concluding words recall those of Mark 15:37: “And Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost.” The most vivid portion of the image, though, is the sun, “round and yellow as a pumpkin.” It seems futile to seek too deeply for meaning in such painterly, impressionistic prose.

It is common for Babel to decorate his stories with striking descriptions of heavenly bodies or of dawn, evening, and the heat of the day. Two other such images in this story deserve quoting: “Already the moon hung above the yard like a cheap earring,” and “Evening wrapped about me the quickening moisture of its twilight sheets; evening laid a mother’s hand on my burning forehead.” Both images, especially the latter, reflect the narrator’s moods and are thus integrated into the story, but the story must be seen as a brightly colored mosaic rather than as a traditional example of realism. This does not mean that its impact, as a commentary on war and revolution, is diminished. Indeed, critics generally agree that Babel’s stories are the best Russian short stories of the twentieth century.