One of the most interesting themes in this story is the ambivalent character of the mutual relationship between the intellectual and the primitive man (whether peasant, “noble savage,” or Cossack). The intellectuality of the narrator is stressed; he has a law degree; he wears glasses; the quartermaster tells him that there is “no life for the brainy type here” and suggests that he will not get on with the troops unless he “mess[es] up a lady”—that is, commits rape. Only when he has symbolically raped the goose (and its owner, also symbolically) is the new officer accepted—and then the soldiers are able to admit that they need him for his ability to read out and explain the truth. Their contempt has changed to respect, but the reader understands that these attitudes will continually alternate.
The narrator’s attitude toward the Cossack Commander Savitsky seems to be one of almost irrational adoration; his desire to get on with the soldiers is more than simply a matter of wanting to succeed as a propaganda officer. He admires the primitive innocence of these men even as he is appalled by their vulgarity and cruelty. This ambivalence remains constant throughout the Red Cavalry stories.
Another theme is that touching on anti-Semitism. The narrator’s Jewishness is not mentioned but only implied (though known in fact from the other Red Cavalry stories). As far as that goes, the Russian-Orthodox Christianity of...
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