And Quiet Flows the Don

by Mikhail Sholokhov

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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...

(This entire section contains 651 words.)

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Cossack land that calls to him from afar. The river Don flows ever onward, its beauty and its nature changing with the seasons, a natural life force that gives strength to the people touched by it despite changes of government and political confrontations.

Places Discussed

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*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 gratifying. The biggest drawback is its relative isolation from the rest of the world, so that news reaches Tatarsk slowly and, when it does, the peasants usually do not know what to make of it. However, what they lack in education, they make up for in their natural intelligence and hard work. Though Tatarsk itself is not always described in precise detail, the reader gets the impression of a vibrant life expressed in joy and sorrow, love and hate, work and play, and the everyday inspiration villagers derive from the majestic Don. The name itself hints at a Melekhov ancestor, a Turkish (Tatar) beauty brought to the village and married to Gregor’s grandfather.


Vieshenska (VYE-shen-ska). Town near Tatarsk, a district center, where the Tatarsk villagers go to buy provisions they cannot produce themselves and to take care of official business. When the revolution enveloped the region, Vieshenska played a significant role for both the Red revolutionaries and their opponents, the Whites.


Yagodnoe (YA-gohd-no-ee). Country estate near Tatarsk, home of important characters in the novel, where Gregor and his lover Aksinia find refuge as workers, after falling out with their families.


*Petrograd. Russian city formerly (and now again) known as St. Petersburg that plays a short but important role in the novel. When the first signs of the revolution manifested themselves in Petrograd, some Tatarsk inhabitants happened to be there. This gives the author a chance to bring the peasants closer to understanding this historical event.


*Rostov. Large Russian port at the confluence of the Don and the sea, the final destination of many participants in the struggle between the Whites and the Reds.

Battle front

Battle front. Several battles between the warring sides are located on both sides of the Don. These scenes are not described geographically in great detail. Instead, the author dwells on the combatants’ behavior, especially their bravery and ferocity. Most of the battles occur in or near Tatarsk. None of them was in itself crucial for the outcome of the struggle, but they each had a fateful impact on Tatarsk villagers, often resulting in death and property destruction.


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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.


Critical Essays