Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the more obvious themes of the story concerns role reversal. Tsudechkis is a frail little man, perhaps classifiable as a schlemiel—a loser. He plays a woman’s role in his weakness, his manipulativeness, and his knowledge of how to soothe a baby to sleep, how to wean it—while the giantess Lyubka is masculine in her size, her business dealings, her indifference toward her child, and her complete sexual dominance. Interestingly, she still remains somehow sexy. The strong, big-busted woman is a type to which the author Babel seems attracted; at the same time he may see himself as Tsudechkis—the weak intellectual who must use trickery to survive.

At a deeper level, these characters carry more interesting meanings. Because of his remarks on being held in captivity (“in the hands of the Pharaoh”), Tsudechkis represents the traditional Jew who places hope in God to free him from bondage. Pesya-Mindl’s interest in the heretical Jewish sect of Hasidism, founded by the messianic Baal Shem Tov in the eighteenth century, speaks to a yearning for the immediate appearance of a Messiah who will save the Jews. Lyubka’s Yiddish surname, Shneiveis (which ironically means “Snowwhite”), testifies that she is Jewish but at the same time she is half-Russian (or Christian). For example, her sobriquet, “Cossack,” is obviously Russian, and her first name is also Russian: Lyubka is the diminutive of “Lyubov,” which means “love.”


(The entire section is 561 words.)