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A pioneer work of Russian Social Realism praised by Lenin, "Mother" is loosely based on events on the eve of the revolution of 1905. Pelagueya is the long-suffering “mother” of the title. Her son Pavel, having learned to read, becomes a devout comrade of revolutionary socialism, spreading it among the factory workers of his village. Pelagueya had been living a miserable and unconscious life, symbolic to Gorki of the oppressed and uneducated proletariat, but her son's socialist awakening transforms both of their lives as their rented working class hovel becomes a buzzing center of revolutionary activity.

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Their circle expands to include other revolutionaries including Natasha and Sasha that leave their well-to-do backgrounds to join the cause. Natasha rejects her hated wealthy father, and Sasha, who falls in love with Pavel, spends time in prison where she goes on a hunger strike to protest a perceived insult. Sasha's landlord father is also described in negative terms as a "robber" of the peasants. Pavel's friend Andrey is invited to live with the family. When the factory decides to impose a one kopek tax on the workers to fund the drainage of the mosquito-infested swamp by the factory, Pavel leads the worker protest and is jailed. He accepts this hardship stoically. At this point, Pelagueya steps up and begins to smuggle socialist pamphlets into the factory with her food deliveries. Pavel can't be blamed for the distribution since he is in jail and he is released release. The comrades mock the government for fattening up their prisoners instead of persecuting them.

Pavel decides to carry the banner at the head of the revolutionaries in the May Day demonstration despite the reservations of Pelagueya and Sasha. Pavel and Andrey are arrested (revolutionaries had assassinated several Czars by this time) yet Pelagueya carries on her revolutionary work with other comrades while Pavel awaits his trial. At his trial, Pavel gives an impassioned speech in which he states the proletarian revolution is inevitable and that his socialist comrades are "uncompromising enemies" of the judges and of the current social order they represent. Pavel states that no reconciliation with them is possible. The court sends him into exile in Siberia.

Comrades throng outside the courtroom praising Pavel's speech and Pelagueya has it secretly printed. She is distributing the anti-government literature and trying to rouse the sullen masses to socialist revolution with an impassioned speech when a spy notifies the gendarmes and they press through the crowd trying to reach her. One grabs her by the collar and tells her to go, but she ignores him and keeps speaking. She is struck blows as struggle ensues and she says "You will not drown the truth in seas of blood" Someone strikes her hand. "You heap up only malice on yourselves, you unwise ones! It will fall on you" Someone begins to choke her, and she says the last words of the novel: "You poor, sorry creatures."

Summary

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The factory workers in the small Russian community of Nizhni-Novgorod are an impoverished, soulless, brutal lot. Their work in the factory dehumanizes them and robs them of their energy; as a result, they live like beasts.

When the worker Michael Vlasov dies, his wife, Pelagueya, fears that her son Pavel will lead the same anguished, brutal life. Gradually, however, she notices with joy and apprehension that Pavel is turning out differently and that he is given to reading. One day, Pavel informs his mother that he is reading subversive literature and that a group of his socialist friends are coming to visit him. Pelagueya is naturally frightened, but when his friends arrive she notices that they are much warmer, much more gentle than the people with whom she lived all of her life. Though they engage in heated arguments, no one seems to get angry at the others. Pavel’s...

(The entire section contains 1602 words.)

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