Critical Evaluation

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

At the turn to the twentieth century, the writings of Maxim Gorky of Russia aroused interest throughout the world for their dramatic presentation of the struggles taking place in that largely unknown country. His representations of the bitter lives of Russia’s people caused a sensation whenever they were published or produced on the stage. Mother is one of the most famous of these early works, and it is his only long work devoted entirely to the Russian revolutionary movement. Most of Gorky’s early novels fail to sustain a continuous, powerful narrative, succumbing instead to frequent and irrelevant philosophical digressions, but Mother stands as a vivid and moving portrayal of a bitter struggle. If Mother is propaganda, it is propaganda raised to the level of art.

Although Gorky wrote primarily about the proletariat and in a naturalistic vein, he was not fundamentally concerned with politics, and his works exhibit a marked lyric talent that imbues his writing with a haunting poetic quality. Gorky’s concern was with strong, vital, memorable characters rather than with dogma or morality. He envisioned a future in which vigorous people would free themselves from their economic degradation and live as free, independent spirits. He was a visionary rather than a dogmatist. This fact is particularly evident in Mother, in which Pelagueya Vlasova, through the love of her son, becomes converted to the revolutionary cause and gradually comes to love the people as her children. Gorky was strongly attracted to self-made individuals, to men and women with the courage to carry out their plans, and he makes the reader admire them as well. The lyric sweep of Gorky’s vision in this novel is compelling.

Pelagueya’s expanding consciousness forms the framework of the novel and serves as the catalyst that unites the parts of the story into a coherent, dynamic vision and raises the book to the level of a masterpiece. In the course of the narrative, the reader experiences the gradual growth of a movement in the radicalization first of the young man Pavel and then of his mother. The mother is only forty years old when the story opens, but already she is an old woman, brutalized by years of poverty and beatings. Spiritually, however, she is not dead, and as she painfully learns the truth about herself and her world, she begins to want to help spread this truth. The numbing fatalism that bound her when her husband was alive, her belief that the lot of women must always be despair, is gradually replaced by hope for the future.

The two aspects of love, its pain and its strength, are movingly depicted. The mother wants to protect her son, but she knows that she must let him be free. At the same time, her growing love for the members of the movement gives her the strength to remake her life and to brave hardships in contributing to the struggle. Her love in turn helps the others in the movement, and their united love for the poor, for the masses of humanity as yet unawakened, helps to keep all of them going. The party is called the “spiritual mother” of the working people, and many times it is referred to as helping the masses to be “reborn.” The primary task of the mother and her compatriots is to educate the people and to distribute literature that will help them to be “reborn.” Awareness must be the first step to revolution. The people are equated with Jesus Christ in several passages, most particularly when the mother washes the feet of the peasant leader Ignaty. The symbolism is...

(This entire section contains 736 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

unobtrusive yet effective.

The long novel is filled with powerful scenes, from the opening in which the terrified woman is beaten by her husband to the ending when she is killed while carrying on the work of her son. The trial of Pavel, her son, and his close friend Andrey, is effectively handled, as are the several riots and crowd scenes. Gorky’s ability to handle large groups of people is remarkable. Each individual stands out distinctly, depicted as having human, believable eccentricities and irrationalities, yet Gorky manages to create a sense of the all-embracing tide of humanity. Human beings are not always consistent to character, and Gorky knew this; his people are realistic, and his characterizations are the principal strength of his mosaic of the early days of the Russian Revolution.