Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

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...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Don. River flowing north to south through the most fertile region of Russia and emptying into the Black Sea. It is the central character of the novel, figuratively speaking. Providing the inhabitants living on its shores with ample basic provisions and fertilizing the land on which they depend, the Don is present in their every activity. Called by the peasants “the Mother Don,” it seems to initiate and conclude every historical event, especially during World War I and the revolution. The author uses its very name as a stark contrast to the turbulent happenings around it during this period. At the same time, it exerts a calming influence on the peasants as a bastion of permanence, something they can always depend on no matter how unstable their life may be. It also gives its name to the entire region.

Mikhal Sholokhov is eminently qualified to describe the Don region. He was born there. Though not of Cossack ancestry, he spent practically all his life there, wrote almost exclusively about life on the Don and, most importantly, was able to paint a remarkably objective picture of the civil war around the Don.


Tatarsk. Fictional village in the northern part of the Don’s course, the home of the Melekhov family, and the place where the novel begins and ends. It is a typical Russian peasant village of modest huts and little else except for fertile fields and river banks. Life is hard but...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Ermolaev, Herman. Mikhail Sholokhov and His Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. One of the best studies of Sholokhov and his works by a native scholar trained in the West. And Quiet Flows the Don is treated extensively, especially the historical events and sources and Sholokhov’s use of them.

Hallet, Richard. “Soviet Criticism of Tikhy Don, 1928-1940.” The Slavonic and East European Review 46, no. 106 (1968): 60-74. A brief but substantive treatment of Sholokhov’s difficulties with the authorities in publishing the novel. They did not like his objective presentation of the revolution.

Klimenko, Michael. The World of Young Sholokhov: Vision of Violence. North Quincy, Mass.: Christopher Publishing House, 1979. A useful study of Sholokhov’s early works, with emphasis on And Quiet Flows the Don.

Medvedev, Roy. Problems in the Literary Biography of Mikhail Sholokhov. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1977. A leading former Russian dissident discusses the controversy about the accusations of Sholokhov’s plagiarism in writing And Quiet Flows the Don.

Muchnic, Helen. “Mikhail Sholokhov.” In From Gorky to Pasternak. New York: Random House, 1961. Extensive essay on Sholokhov, the first part of which is devoted to And Quiet Flows the Don.

Simmons, Ernest J. Russian Fiction and Soviet Ideology: Introduction to Fedin, Leonov, and Sholokhov. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967. Evaluates Sholokhov within an ideological and political context. Simmons is one of the leading American scholars of Russian literature.

Stewart, D. H. Mikhail Sholokhov: A Critical Introduction. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. A solid introduction to Sholokhov, with emphasis on And Quiet Flows the Don.