Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 143

“Matryona’s House” is a short story in the classic style of its author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian historian and master of twentieth-century Russian realism. The story’s protagonist, Ignatich, is modeled after Solzhenitsyn himself, and the story has been characterized as an allegory for Russia.

Matryona is moral, humble, righteous,...

(The entire section contains 641 words.)

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“Matryona’s House” is a short story in the classic style of its author, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian historian and master of twentieth-century Russian realism. The story’s protagonist, Ignatich, is modeled after Solzhenitsyn himself, and the story has been characterized as an allegory for Russia.

Matryona is moral, humble, righteous, and long-suffering. She has a gentle soul and takes pride in her work. She also clings to traditional ways and embraces pagan superstitions. However, she bends in the face of government authority in the post-World War II climate, which leads to the destruction of her home, her work, and her traditional way of life. Scholars have connected the character of Matryona to the concept of the long-suffering nation. In this classic work of Russian literature, Solzhenitsyn contrasts Old World values, embodied by Matryona, with the values of a modern Soviet nation.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 498

Despite the later mutual hostility between Solzhenitsyn and the Soviet Union, “Matryona’s House” has been a powerful influence on other Soviet writers. Although similar stories extolling rural virtues had already appeared by 1963, Solzhenitsyn’s story must be regarded as the paradigm of the new literary genre that came to be known as “village prose.” This genre is basically noninnovative in style while setting forth the sentimental philosophy of Slavophilism, or Russian nationalism. It appeals to the essential conservatism of Russians—including those at the helm of the Communist Party, who have tended to revive strictly Russian values as other national groups in the Soviet Union have increased in number relative to the Russian population.

In its details, Solzhenitsyn’s style reflects the larger Slavophile philosophy. For example, he strives to use only Russian words and to avoid all those of Western origin. One reason he rejects the collective farm is that it bears an ugly, Westernized name—“Torfoprodukt.”

Solzhenitsyn employs several motifs that act as omens of Matryona’s death: the mice and cockroaches rustling in the walls, the dismantling of the house, the death of the old woman’s cat, the coming of winter, and the several negative references to the railroad. When Matryona is finally killed by the train, one suddenly recognizes the parallel with Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886). In her character, Matryona is rather like Pasha in Leo Tolstoy’s “Father Sergius,” while Ilya seems to have his origin in Tolstoy’s moralistic play about peasants, Vlast tmy (1888; The Power of Darkness, 1902).

Other brief allusions to Russian literary works may be seen in the overcoat that Matryona has made for herself when she finally starts to receive her pension (Nikolai Gogol’s famous story) and the frequent references to Matryona’s three sisters (Anton Chekhov’s play). The extreme symmetry of the story (two Matryonas, with six children each) echoes the structure of folktales. The final words of the story, quoted above, seem to reflect a Russian version of the Hasidic myth of the thirty-six just men (called the lamed vav), without whose anonymous virtue the earth would be destroyed.

Further emulating the manner of folktales, Solzhenitsyn employs groups of three in a significant manner. The story itself is divided into three parts; three people are killed when the train crashes into the sledge; the coffins lie in the village for three days; a song is repeated three times in the funeral service; and so on. The fact that three people are killed perhaps suggests the three who died on Calvary; this reading is supported by the fact that the coffins remain in the village on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and that Matryona died in the ninth hour. The concluding description of her as that one righteous person without whom no city can stand marks her as a most interesting female symbol of Jesus Christ. She is sacrificed in Solzhenitsyn’s tale so that the Russian ideal for which she stands may live.

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