Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Gordeyevs’ town

Gordeyevs’ town. Unnamed Russian town in which the novel’s protagonists, the Gordeyevs, live and work. Situated on the Volga River, the town is probably Nizhny Novgorod, Maxim Gorky’s birthplace (later renamed Gorky). As a native of that area, Gorky manifested everlasting love for it and allegiance to it.

Foma Gordeyev offers a vivid picture of Russian life at the turn of the twentieth century and of the merchant class, the backbone of the Russian society before the Russian Revolution. The novel traces the rise and fall of the merchant class, embodied in the fortunes of Ignat Gordeyev and his son Foma. An owner of boats and barges on the Volga, Ignat is a powerful and ruthless businessman who brutally mistreats the people under him; however, his harsh methods bring him great wealth. He explains to his young son that life is not a loving mother but a stern taskmaster. The father and son eventually find themselves at opposing ends. Although Foma admires his father’s success, he also feels sorry for him because success has not brought him happiness. Foma becomes a reserved, taciturn young man, self-confident, upright, with a strong sense of justice. After his father’s death, he gradually brings the family fortunes to ruin. What prevents him from preserving his father’s fortune is his idealization of the working class and his desire to look for a heart in a man. He becomes a displaced, superfluous man, who is declared insane and who spends the rest of his life roaming the streets in rags.

Gorky uses this plot to point out the injustice and the inhumane character of Russia’s social order at the time. He also uses the beautiful and...

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