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...
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