Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 651
And Quiet Flows the Don depicts four periods in the life of a Cossack family: the harsh but simple, everyday realities of the rural, prewar Don region; the disruptive demands of war commitments, which separate families, take men away from the land, and bring sacrifice and loss; the confusing period of revolution, with competing political groups seizing and losing power; and the civil war that results from world war and revolution. The story begins with the Melekhov family, Cossacks with Turkish blood, who are neither aristocrats nor peasants, but independent, spirited warriors committed to land, horses, battle, and the czar. The oldest son of the family, Gregor, seduces his neighbor’s wife, Aksinia, while her husband, Stepan, is away in the army. To end this affair, Gregor’s father forces him to marry Natalia, a nice girl from a rich family, who is beautiful, hardworking, and in love with him. After the wedding, however, her sexual inexperience drives him back into the arms of the lascivious Aksinia, and their scandalous, open affair ultimately forces Gregor to leave his wife and family for the Listnitsky estate, where he and Aksinia live and work together. After a confrontation with Aksinia, who bears Gregor’s daughter, Natalia tries to commit suicide by falling on a scythe but recovers slowly, her neck permanently twisted. Although she comes back in shame to her father’s house, she eventually returns to the arms of the Melekhovs, who feel deep affection for her and treat her like their own daughter. While Gregor fulfills his military service, his daughter dies, and Aksinia accepts the sexual advances of Eugene Listnitsky, becoming his mistress. Upon his return, Gregor learns the truth; disillusioned and jealous, he savagely beats Eugene, slashes at Aksinia, and returns to his wife’s bed. Natalia bears twins, a son and a daughter, while Gregor serves at the front of World War I.
Gregor overcomes his aversion to killing and distinguishes himself in battle. Aksinia’s husband tries to kill him on several occasions, but Gregor eventually saves Stepan’s life. As winner of the Cross of St. George for bravely saving a wounded officer, Gregor becomes the pride of his village and of his father. At one point, he is reported dead and the family mourns, but he recovers to be wounded and cured several more times.
Gregor’s first encounter with Bolshevik ideas was with Osip Stockman, who raised questions that made locals rethink their politics, but while in the hospital, Gregor falls under the influence of the Bolsheviks and is confused about which political direction to take. A subplot with machine-gunner Ilia Bunchuk explores the motives that led some Cossacks to fight on the side of the Bolsheviks. Gregor does so, briefly, and receives officer status. As the counterrevolutionary forces move forward and the Bolsheviks retreat, however, Gregor, disturbed by his choice, returns home to resume his civil life. When the Red Army gains strength again and approaches Tatarsk, the majority of Cossacks unite their forces to fight the Bolshevik army. The members of the Tatarsk regiment nominate his brother Piotra to be their leader and insist that Gregor join them to prove his allegiance. When the regiment joins the rest of the Cossacks, they find out that the Red Army has been defeated; however, they capture and execute a group of Cossacks who fought with the Reds, among them a former friend of Gregor, whose accusations of betrayal make Gregor verbalize the contradictions that sway his loyalties. The revolutionists die predicting the future success of their cause as Gregor turns away and returns home to the rich black soil of the Cossack land that calls to him from afar. The river Don flows ever onward, its beauty and its nature changing with the seasons, a...
(The entire section contains 1509 words.)
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