Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The themes in the novel are the nature and function of literature, the freedom of the artist, and the relation of literature to reality. The nature of the artist is a theme often considered, but this book is new in its making literary theory and its fate in the new Soviet society the center of concern. One expects such material in a scholarly discussion, not in a novel. Shklovsky treats the themes with such freshness, demonstrating convincingly the importance of literary theory to human life in general, that the reader takes the issues as seriously as he does. These themes are in all of his novels, but the challenge by the Party to the artistic positions Shklovsky and his friends had formulated makes this treatment of his favorite themes moving and melancholy. The excitement with which the writer discusses literary ideas in earlier novels, Sentimentalnoye putishestiye: Vospominaniye, 1918-1922 (1923; A Sentimental Journey: Memoirs, 1917-1922, 1970) and Zoo: Ili, Pisma ne o lyubvi (1923; Zoo: Or, Letters Not About Love, 1971), gives way here to deep reconsideration and reassertion of the humane values that underlay the early Formalist discussions.

What appears here, then, is a brilliant display of new techniques, the dazzling form itself asserting the value of the ideas. Metaphors emerge from areas of life and language new to literature: the writer as flax in a field to be processed into a product; the new literary...

(The entire section is 491 words.)