Last Updated on November 29, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 799
The Value of Freedom
Throughout Mother, the author indicates the bleak reality of life for the working class in Russia. He paints vivid portraits of inescapable poverty and struggle, lives lost in wretched labor, and unfair class systems with little potential for social mobility. Within this portrait, he locates several characters whose actions prove the value of freedom and personal agency within such a system. When wealth and status predetermine every facet of one’s life, Gorki argues, freedom and self-determinism are notably absent. Their absence does not negate the desire for them, as much of the book is concerned with the main characters’ yearning for a system that would allow them to act and work as they wished. Marxist ideas and early Socialist values are the solutions to this quandary, becoming a source of hope and potential to which the characters cling. In their view, socioeconomic restructuring and the integration of Socialist ideals into Russian society are the only means by which they can achieve anything more than the barest semblance of autonomy. By restructuring an unfair and exploitative system, they gain the mobility and self-determinism they desire.
However, this is no mean task. As Pavel, Pelagueya, and their comrades quickly learn, they must suffer in the name of their beliefs. Time and again, they are assaulted, arrested, and imprisoned. Yet, despite these abuses, their revolutionary spirit does not wane; instead, it is strengthened by the knowledge that those in power resent change, for it would upset the strict conventions that oppress the working class to their benefit. Knowing that their suffering furthers the cause, the characters willingly face violence, exile, and potentially death, striving against all odds for the freedom from economic exploitation they so deeply desire. Indeed, it is worth it, as Pelagueya indicates at the end of the novel. She looks death in the face and embraces it, aware that her sacrifice might encourage others to continue the fight for freedom for the working class.
The Inevitability of Corruption
Although this was not Gorki’s intention, modern readers cannot shake the knowledge that, regardless of the nature of governance, corruption is inevitable. While Gorki and his characters see a Socialist revolution as the answer to the socioeconomic oppression they and their working-class comrades face, readers—who have the advantage of time—know that this idealistic effort did little more than reconstitute the oppression the working class faced. When the Bolshevik Revolution began in 1917 and culminated in the destruction of the autocracy, the subsequent Communist Party and, later, the Soviet Union that rose from the ashes was equally destructive to the common man. It is a devastating realization: Pavel and Pelagueya’s—and through them, Gorki’s—enthusiasm for the revolutionary spirit bubbling beneath the surface of Russian society was ultimately misguided. Their romantic notion of a Socialist Russia was little more than an idealistic wish lost to the greedy and corrupt desires of those in power, regardless of their political affiliation.
The Lives of the Working Class
Mother takes place in Nizhni-Novgorod, a small factory community. By locating the narrative in a village rife with suffering and limited by its single-industry economic structure, Gorki provides a backdrop to explore poverty and economic stagnation in the lives of the working class. He speaks of the demanding labor that factory work entails while indicating its necessity: there is no survival in Nizhni-Novgorod without a factory salary. As such, the villagers are forced to work for a pittance, performing a lifetime of hard labor for survival wages, never enough to elevate them beyond the poverty level. It is a vicious cycle of financial desperation and lifelong dependency, a holding pattern that inhibits any feelings of independence or self-actualization. The bleak lives of those at the bottom of the capitalist totem pole are untenable, Gorki argues, showing that the working class is little more than indentured servitude. Their labor fuels the technological advancement and wealth consolidation of the upper-class bourgeoisie, whose success they will never touch.
All told, Gorki’s view of the lives of the working class is a grim and inevitable tale of sorrow and struggle. However, he offers a silver lining in the form of Marxist doctrine, revealing a means of escape and restructuring. By implementing Socialist values into Russian society, he argues, the common man might be able to escape the cyclical trap of working-class oppression and abolish the socioeconomic systems used to control the masses and monopolize their economic output. These values throw a wrench in the well-oiled capitalist machine, allowing the revolutionary spirit to drive forward and quash the conventional mores of Russian society. In short, the novel is an expose of suffering and its solutions, revealing the depths of the working class’ circumstances while indicating the far-superior alternative of life under Socialism.