Themes

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

Two themes are central to A Gentleman in Moscow: the true nature of freedom and the limits of political solutions to social problems. The gentleman’s story illustrates resilience in the face of adversity and the importance of hope in sustaining that resilience. The novel’s central conceit is that Count Rostov, the gentleman in question, spends much of his life confined in a luxurious hotel as his sentence for being convicted of a political crime. The setting is Moscow, and the action spans several decades. Other people enter and leave the Hotel Metropol, where the Count lives and later works, but he can never leave.

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Superficially, Count Rostov does not suffer. He is not physically abused, he has adequate and often luxurious food and drink, and he socializes with other workers as well as guests. He even takes pride in excelling at coping: one of his maxims for living is “if one did not master one’s circumstances, one was bound to be mastered by them.” The reader continues to wonder if the author, Amor Towles, aims to convince us that this type of imprisonment is truly comparable to the harsh realities most prisoners face. Towles does not spell this out.

Whether the Count had been fairly sentenced also remains an open question, as the novel glosses over the political rationale and larger social context for his sentencing. In fact, the answer is not relevant to the novelist’s aims, which are not primarily political: Towles never suggests the reader try to make sense of Soviet politics, or indeed of politics at all.

By keeping the focus on this singular character, Towle instead encourages the reader to ponder all the ways that people cope with captivity, even when the physical conditions are not overtly hazardous, and what constitutes suffering. In the years during and after the Revolution, many elite Russians were imprisoned in dire circumstances, and many others fled into exile. Under Stalin, the situation was much grimmer; many authors have written effectively about the forced labor camps, or gulags, in Siberia. Towles inverts the situation by...

(The entire section contains 536 words.)

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