Maxim Gorky Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Maxim Gorky’s short stories offer a composite portrait of a writer dedicated to his craft but also to the solution of the pressing problems of his society. The main features of this portrait reveal Gorky as an idealist, a humanitarian, a revolutionary, and a realist. Often, several of these traits are combined. There is a distinct constancy in his views and attitudes and in his desire to lend his talent to the service of both his literary vocation and the bettering of the lives of his compatriots.

“The Song of the Falcon”

Gorky’s idealism is best illustrated by the short-short story, actually a poem in prose, “Pesnia o sokole” (“The Song of the Falcon”). In this early story, his belief in human beings’ dignity, yearning for freedom, and lofty aspirations is manifested by the glorification of a stately bird, a falcon, which soars majestically through vast blue expanses. At the same time, a snake on the ground is bound to its low-level existence, and when it tries to imitate the falcon, it falls from a cliff from which it attempted to fly. With the help of these symbols, Gorky expresses a notion that human beings’ destiny can resemble the soaring flight of a falcon if they strive for it; if not, theirs is the lot of a snake. It is an act of faith on his part, perhaps more of a hope, that humankind can realize its lofty aspirations. This faith or hope reveals Gorky’s tendency to romanticize human potential, prompting some critics to call him a romantic idealist.

Further examples of this romantic idealization are found in three other early stories, “Makar Chudra” (English translation), “Starukha Izergil” (“Old Woman Izergil”), and “Chelkash” (English translation). Makar Chudra tells a story of a young Gypsy who kills the girl he loves rather than submit to her demand that he crawl before her if he wants to be her lover. Gorky extols here human beings’ determination to preserve freedom and dignity, sacrificing all other considerations. In the second story, “Old Woman Izergil,” based on Russian folklore, Danko is leading his people out of a dark forest by taking his heart out of his chest and using it as a torch. Freedom, Gorky preaches, is not cheap and often requires the ultimate sacrifice, like that of the Gypsy in the preceding story. Gorky’s admiration for bravery and boldness is brought to a head in “Chelkash,” where the characters of two vagabonds, a thief and a peasant, are contrasted. The thief Chelkash acts like a rapacious beast, whereas the peasant is driven by common greed. Gorky’s sympathies are clearly on the side of Chelkash because he follows blindly his instincts, thereby displaying character strength, while the peasant is moved by low, selfish interests.

“Twenty-six Men and a Girl”

Gorky further believes that yearning for freedom and better life, no matter how sincere and justified, is futile if it is not accompanied by resolute action. In perhaps his best story, “Dvadtsat’shest’ i odna” (“Twenty-six Men and a Girl”), he confronts twenty-six bakery workers with an opportunity to satisfy their yearning for freedom and beauty in the person of pretty, sixteen-year-old Tanya, who purchases baked...

(The entire section is 1326 words.)