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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

"Matryona's House" is a short story by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about a math teacher who leaves the gulag and comes to live with a Russian woman on a farm. It's set in the summer of 1953.

The story starts with the Ignatich saying that the trains one hundred and eighty-four kilometers...

(The entire section contains 988 words.)

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"Matryona's House" is a short story by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn about a math teacher who leaves the gulag and comes to live with a Russian woman on a farm. It's set in the summer of 1953.

The story starts with the Ignatich saying that the trains one hundred and eighty-four kilometers from Moscow were still slowing down six months after an incident happened. He says that only he and the drivers knew what happened.

He talks about the past summer. He returned from his travels and asked Personnel Section for help finding a job somewhere where the trains don't run. A woman selling milk suggests that he board with Matryona, who she says doesn't have a cozy home because she's unwell and neglects things.

He moves in with Matryona and chooses to stay despite the fact that the cottage where she lives is falling apart and overrun with insects. He finds out that she married Efim, the brother of the man she loved, when she thought he would not return; he did, and married another woman named Matryona.

Martryona and Efim had six children that all died before they were a year old. Ilya and his Matryona had six children that lived. Their youngest, Kira, went to Matryona (the narrator's friend) to raise. She's now married and Matryona gives her and her husband a building on her property to live in under pressure from Ilya. She intended to give the top section of her house to Kira after her death, but decides to do it presently to avoid upsetting Ilya.

In order to construct the building, the logs of her hut have to be moved. In the process, she's killed at the railroad crossing when there's an accident. Ignatich watches the funeral and observes that her sisters blame Ilya and his family for insisting she give away the room, but knows they're also making it clear that he and his family can't have the rest of the house.

At the end, Ignatich reflects that she was the kind of person who keeps cities and villages together. He says without a righteous person like her, they—and the whole land—cannot stand.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 629

The story of Matryona Grigorieva’s life and death is told—and remarked on—by a narrator whose full name is not given, but whom one may take to be a spokesperson for the author. That is, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the narrator has served time in labor camps and has now taken up residence in a village where he will teach mathematics in high school. As the author taught in several places during his exile from 1953 to 1957, following his release from prison, the setting of “Matryona’s House” is a composite of villages in Uzbekistan and in the Ryazan and Vladimir districts of the Soviet Union and is thus a generalized Soviet village, here given the fictional name Tal’novo. The village of Tal’novo is set in contrast to the nearby Soviet collective farm of Torfoprodukt (“Peatproduce”), with its processing factories.

As time passes from summer to winter, one learns from the narrator that his landlady, though a childless widow, has a foster daughter, Kira, who is now married. Anticipating her own death, she has bequeathed to Kira one of the several small structures that make up her dwelling place (the Russian word dvor means “homestead,” rather than merely “house”). The actual cottage in which Matryona and her boarder live, though built within living memory of the villagers, seems almost ancient. The caulking has come loose from the logs, and in its walls live myriad mice and cockroaches. The cottage has begun to decay, just as Matryona has become old and sickly.

In a series of casually introduced flashbacks, one learns that Matryona had loved Ilya Grigoriev before he went away to war in 1914. When he failed to return at the expected time, she married his younger brother Efim (an act that, the reader will find, invokes the adage “Marry in haste, repent at leisure”). When Ilya returns at last from a German prisoner-of-war camp, he tells Matryona that if Efim were not his brother, he would murder the pair of them. He then scours the area for another woman named Matryona and marries her.

The other Matryona bears her husband six children, all of whom survive to maturity. Matryona-married-to-Efim also has six children, but none lives longer than six months. Then comes World War II, and Efim is called up for military duty. Unlike Ilya, Efim does not return. Matryona thus becomes a widow; she would have been childless but for Kira, the other Matryona’s youngest daughter, given to her to rear.

As the reader grows more and more sympathetic to the decent, tolerant, and passively suffering Matryona, he becomes increasingly aware of the tension created by the vindictive and greedy Ilya. Ilya insists that the promised outbuilding be given to Kira (who is, after all, still his daughter), and finally Matryona agrees.

The process of numbering, dismantling, and moving the logs of the hut is a lengthy one, complicated by February snows, the necessity of transporting the lumber some thirty-five kilometers to Kira’s village, and the ritual requirement of drinking great amounts of moonshine vodka before departing. Matryona accompanies the men to the railroad crossing—and there she is killed when one of the sledges hangs up on the tracks and is smashed by a train. Through his greed, Ilya’s threat of murder is thus implicitly fulfilled.

Ilya may be seen as representing the newer, urban values of ambition and materialism, while Matryona embodies the older Russian spirituality, fatalistic acceptance, and naturalness. The narrator recognizes Matryona’s essential goodness as a kind of revelation or epiphany at the end of the story: “None of us who lived close to her perceived that she was that one righteous person without whom, as the saying goes, no city can stand. Neither can the whole world.”

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