Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Struggles In The Soviet Union

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Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Struggles in the Soviet Union

Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Struggles in the Soviet Union


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn initially responded to his prison and labor camp experiences in easy-to-memorize poetry and later in tiny self-contained prose poems, written down in the 1950's and assembled as a rough set around 1962, although not published at that time in the Soviet Union. Shortly after his initial success in the journal Novy Mir with the short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich , Solzhenitsyn also published there his short stories “Incident at Krechetovka Station,” “Matryona's House,” and “For the Good of the Cause” in 1963. Like “The Easter Procession,” “The Right Hand” never appeared in the Soviet Union until the end of glasnost in the late 1980's, although “Zakhar the Pouch” was published in Novy Mir in 1966 and was the last of Solzhenitsyn's works printed publicly in the Soviet Union. Each of these short pieces contains the germ of a larger work to come, just as each of the individuals or groups named in the titles of the stories reflects one facet of Solzhenitsyn's overriding theme of his country's agony under Communism.

The essence of Solzhenitsyn's message lies in his peculiarly Russian view of shared suffering as vital, even necessary, to human spiritual survival. To this end, he announced in his Nobel lecture that only art, only literature, can bridge the immense gulfs of time and space between human beings, bringing experiences of those faraway others close enough so that their lessons may help overcome evil. Although Solzhenitsyn has not completed large-scale treatments of all the themes presented in his short fiction, the individualization of experience he began with Ivan Denisovich, the lowly camp inmate whose shining humanity enables him to survive, clearly emerges from the prose poems and the short stories, its successive stages mirroring Solzhenitsyn's own existence in Stalin's prison system.

Matryona's House

Like the narrator of “The Right Hand,” himself a sufferer, the man who tells the story of “Matryona's House” recently emerged from the crucible of the prison system. All he wants at the outset is to lose himself in the heart of Russia, yearning for the peace of its countryside to restore his soul. Like Solzhenitsyn himself, he takes a position as a mathematics teacher in a shabby ancient village, living in a large old ramshackle house with a sick and aged peasant woman named Matryona. Matryona owns few things, and what she does have is as decrepit as her cockroach-ridden kitchen: a lame cat, a marginal garden, a dirty white goat, and some stunted house plants. Although she had worked on the collective farm for twenty-five years, bureaucratic entanglements have choked off her dead husband's pension—she herself is entitled to nothing—and she is almost destitute. Meager as her life is, however, Matryona's goodness sustains both herself and her lodger, who comes to prize her smile even more than the bit of daily bread they share.

In a strange though altogether convincing way, Matryona's very generosity is responsible for her ...
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