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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 487

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...

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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.

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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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1115

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 friends seem full of hope and vitality, and Pelagueya quickly warms up to them. In particular, she likes Andrey, who is bighearted and full of laughter, and Natasha, a frail, gentle girl who reads aloud during the meetings. Others in the group are Sashenka, a commanding girl who loves Pavel, and Vyesovshchikov, the village misanthropist. They are idealistic young people, hopeful about the future of working people and prepared to put their ideas into action. Pelagueya agrees to take Andrey in as a roomer out of her motherly love for him.

Gradually Pavel’s home became the center of their activities, but at the same time the group becomes the focus of village suspicion. Pavel and his comrades print leaflets and distribute them among the workers, spelling out their miserable condition. Soon afterward, the police drop in unexpectedly and arrest Andrey and Vyesovshchikov. Several others are arrested as well.

While the workers are generally hostile to Pavel because of his strangeness, he also inspires a certain confidence in them by virtue of his stern intelligence. Pelagueya is flattered that the sharp peasant, Rybin, an old bear of a man, should go to her son for advice. One day, the workers are notified that their pay will be cut. The workers are behind Pavel when he makes a speech to them and to the manager in protest against the cut; however, because of the speech, Pavel is arrested and sent to jail.

Distressed by her son’s arrest, Pelagueya learns that about sixty others were arrested as well and that Andrey sent her his regards from prison. She thereupon decides to become involved in her son’s activities and takes a job as a caterer to the factory laborers. Under cover of her work she distributes revolutionary literature. Meanwhile, she continues to see Pavel’s socialist friends.

Soon afterward, Andrey is released from prison, and he returns to Pelagueya, who welcomes him with open arms. Rybin, claiming that the peasants are no better off than the workers, goes to the country to stir up the peasants against their oppressive masters.

With Andrey living in her house, Pelagueya feels happier. Under his friendly goading, she learns to read and write. She visits Pavel in prison and slyly tells him of her activities in distributing leaflets. Pelagueya’s world expands greatly now that she is involved in the socialist cause; she has something to hope for beyond her selfish interests.

In the spring, Pavel is released from prison. The Vlasov household continues to be the hub of local socialist activities, and Pavel announces his intention of marching with the banner in the coming May Day parade, even though to do so will mean another jail sentence. One day, one of Pavel’s friends rushes in to report that a spy was murdered in the street. At first Pelagueya fears that Vyesovshchikov committed the crime; later Andrey reveals that he accidentally killed the spy and feels guilty about his deed. After two weeks of inquiring into the matter, the police give up the investigation.

May Day arrives, and Pavel and Andrey are up early. The crowds gather in the streets, and the two men walk through them with Pelagueya close behind. After they make an abortive attempt to rouse the workers with speeches and songs, soldiers appear, force back the crowd, and arrest Pavel, Andrey, and their companions. Pelagueya feels depressed after their arrest. In answer to her loneliness, Nikolay Ivanovich comes to her and invites her to live with him in the city. She accepts his invitation and moves to his apartment. Nikolay and his sister Sofya are well-bred socialists. They treated Pelagueya with affection and respect, and she comes to love them as though they were members of her own family.

Pelagueya and Sofya dress as pilgrims and in that disguise distribute propaganda throughout the city and surrounding countryside. While delivering books to Rybin, Pelagueya sees the hardships of peasant life and the cruelty of the masters. She proves useful in aiding Vyesovshchikov to hide from the police after he escapes from prison. She nurses a dying comrade, and during a riot at his funeral she helps a wounded boy at some danger to herself. She also visits Pavel in prison.

Learning that many of her comrades were arrested, she decides to go alone to deliver her pamphlets in the country village. On arriving there she sees that Rybin was arrested and cruelly beaten. That night, she stays with sympathetic peasants and gives them copies of her leaflets. Returning to the city, she aids a fugitive peasant and tells Nikolay about her trip. Shortly thereafter, she helps a comrade to escape from prison. Her efforts for the workers make her realize how family allegiances interfere with loyalty to the cause; she understands now why Pavel refuses to get married.

After about six months in jail, Pavel and his comrades are finally brought to trial. The judges are cold, impersonal, and aloof. Several of Pavel’s friends decline to testify in his defense. As the trial proceeds, Pavel makes a rousing speech in which he denounces the decadence of the masters and praises the youth and vision of the socialists. After Andrey further taunts the judges, Pavel and his companions are sentenced to exile in Siberia.

During this time, the police hunt down the socialists. Nikolay is arrested shortly after the trial. Pavel’s speech is printed, and Pelagueya promises to deliver copies to a remote town. On the train, she recognizes a police spy and knows she is trapped. When the police try to arrest her, she shouts to the other occupants of the train about her mission and their servitude. She opens her bag and hands out the leaflets even while the police are beating her.

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