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Russian Literature in the 20th Century Term Paper

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2020

Introduction

The beginning of the 20th Century marked an era of unprecedented and radical changes in social structures, economic systems, and political organizations among other spheres of life. Various literary schools of thought developed and each had a distinct artistic approach and ideological aspects. The Russian literature developed as a major way to learn about the Russian culture and worldview coupled with ways of loving, fighting, and expression. This period ranks as the Silver Age of the Russian literature and it served the urgent mission to provide the Russian citizens with a kind of truth, which could only be conveyed through literature in a censored society.

The Silver Age developed the most prominent individual writers including Doctor Zhivago, Vladimir Maykovsky, Vladimir Makanin, Sasha Sokolov, and Vladimir Sorokin among others. This paper will evaluate the Russian literature with close reference to the works of the aforementioned authors and show that their ideological perspectives offered the most promising directions for understanding the 20th Century Russia. These authors aimed at interpreting the evidence about events that were experienced through the 20th Century. However, this paper will show that suffering was the main theme, which was greatly highlighted by the myriad divergent individual interests and addressing this issue was the central focus in the Russian literature.

From realism to modernism

The Russian 20th Century literature has been widespread and highly utilized for good reasons, simply because one can learn about gender issues coupled with tracing the literary themes like death, love, war, revolution and punishment. Following the rapid revolutions of the 20th Century, realism was no longer the driving factor of the Russian literature (Brown 42). The rejection of the ancient literary models and change of values by many writers enhanced the development of modernism literary. Modernism was viewed as a response to socio-economic, political, and scientific changes within a certain period.

Modernism “emphasized the issue of gender, class, and pursuit for knowledge” (Platt and Brandenberger 86). In the early 20th Century, a sense of hopelessness was developing amongst many people and it was becoming evident that nothing was reliable to respond to the rising issues. Modernism embraced scientific innovation and viewed the progress as a rapid break from the past traditions of the previous centuries. Brown defines this period as an era characterized by the pursuit for uniqueness through art and poetry (37). Nevertheless, some authors regarded the radical leftist ideals as necessary to end the violence that characterized almost all aspects of the Russian society. This perspective was popular because people knew that literature would have a widespread impact on a huge audience and realism was seen as a style that the public had well known and could easily appreciate. However, this aspect did not alter the efforts to adopt and appreciate the impacts of the modernizing world.

Following the effects of the unrest of revolutions and the Stalin’s regime, the 20th Century authors sought to address the suffering that the public experienced as well as the social ills fueled by the Communist regimes. For instance, Vladimir Makanin is a Soviet writer whose writing style assumes a realist form. He uses novels and short stories to demonstrate the psychological implications that Russian citizens encounter in their lives. In his 1980 novel, the Antileader, Makanin depicted the kind of suffering that Russians were undergoing due to poor political and economic ideologies of the Communist leaders (Platt and Brandenberger 38).

Although, Stalin’s ideologies had been abandoned following his death, the resulting economic impacts prolonged and were greatly magnified during the economic depression of the 1960s. Literature was one of the influential channels via which anti-communist leaders could enlighten the public since the regimes were hostile to public meetings.

Role of Individual identity

Apparently, The Russian 20th Century history is easily accessible via documented literature that helps current scholars to learn about issues such as representations of minority groups in the Soviet regime. The Soviet era was defined by ideological differences, misguided objectives, and lack of peace, thus tending towards war. This aspect made life unbearable and struggle in society coupled with duel amongst ideologies characterized the 20th century literature. Many thinkers and prominent writers emphasized the aspects of individualist philosophy, which was anchored in the values of freedom and individuals. Numerous writings by Boris Pasternak expressed this tradition of liberalism and pluralism, which attracted support from the masses and scholars in the field of politics. For instance, Pasternak was motivated by the escalation of war between the Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He repeatedly assisted in sensitizing the public about what was going on and the implications of the war through literature (Platt and Brandenberger 50). This demonstrated the big role played by literature when communicating to the masses.

Roles of men and women

Gender issues have been a widespread topic among many writers, and thus during the mid-20th Century, gender emerged as a key factor in the Russian literature. Women played a major role in shaping the Russian literature, but their judgment and convictions had always been received with contempt by the male dominated society. They were regarded as feminine, weak, submissive, and stupid. Male philosophers and writers depicted women as conveniences, necessary for maintaining a household and bringing pleasure to men. Women were seen as enemies of civilization whereas order, theory, and reason were termed as masculine traits.

This perception about women was morally wrong and served the interest of men to remain dominant. This assertion is evident in the way men dominated the literary field with a few female authors rising at the end of the 20th century. Pasternak, in his publication about Dr. Zhivago, shows that in the first half of the 20th Century, a steady family life was the common theme, which motivated political stability. He discovered that women were essential to bringing the much-needed change since wars were claiming many men, thus creating a gap, which had to be filled by women (Dobrenko and Balina 72). Consequently, the 20th Century literature gradually changed its perception about women and started to address the new roles of females in society.

The roles of men were highly distinguished from those of women during the early 20th Century. Men took roles outside the homes such as family representatives, farming, and military officials, while women concentrated on household chores. However, modernization later altered the social organization and the individuals’ influence on the social system deteriorated, thus leading to change in gender-oriented roles. Various authors and the government encouraged equal access to education and competition for jobs. In addition, Stalin’s regime and the World War II led to massive loss of men. This aspect reduced the male population substantially, thus creating opportunities for women to fill the various men’s duties in several sectors, hence transforming them to women’s career.

This aspect shows that the Russian literature was appropriate and timely because it described the status quo from which the women were motivated to stand firm and fight for their place in the society. Creating counter environment initiated a perception that enlightened women to respond assertively to the changing world (Brown 50). Initially, the Russian leaders expressed good ideas, but due to human failings, the ideas were ignored as the fight for change transformed into a civil war. Pasternak used literature to cleverly demonstrate that the suffering caused by the misguided upheavals were very devastating to Russian community.

Stalinism

Stalinism describes a style of leadership and an ideology used to define the time that Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union. The revolutionary culture of this period entailed abandoning the past and developing new perspectives embracing Stalinism. The Stalin’s ideology in the Soviet Union involved swift industrialization, a centralized state, socialism, and state terror. Stalinism led to an increase of class conflicts and acceleration towards communism. Most Russian citizens were reluctant to adopt Stalinism by dismissing it as a ploy unnecessarily leading to the praising of particular individuals. While Stalin claimed to uphold the ideologies pursued by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, his idea of socialism and centralization contradicted the ideals advanced the two. To Stalin, the state had to come out firm to conquer any efforts that inhibited a transition to communism.

Stalin’s controversial regime was highly criticized by Vladimir Sorokin, an author who crossed the lines and risked arrest for his exaggerated publication at the end of the 20th Century by depicting Stalin and his compatriots as worse than rapists (Brown 74). Although his sentiments were received with contempt by the public, Sorokin was agitated by the ills and control of masses by the leaders. Largely, Stalin’s administration failed to observe ethical considerations such as human safety, integrity, and accountability. The Russian literature clearly shows how these regimes failed the dream of the Russian citizens and it recommends the adoption of a friendly and democratic systems. However, literature was a sure way through which succeeding regimes could learn how to evade the flaws of their predecessors.

The publication of Doctor Zhivogo by Boris Pasternak helped Russians to understand how to cope with the rapid effects of Stalinism and avoid the pressure of submission that was emerging across the country. Stalin’s dictatorship in the 1930s influenced the dismissal of all literature associations and developed a central National Union of Soviet authors. This aspect demonstrated how influential literature was when planning to stage grievances. Pasternak emphasized that the suffering encountered by the Russian military during the World War II was worse than the implications of the war and it only brought grief, confusion, and fear. Literature represented the will of the citizens and addressed their hurt. Before the end of the 20th century, literature had appropriately communicated various issues like freedom to the public (Dobrenko and Balina 65).

Ethical, moral, and philosophical issues

Both fictional and non-fictional works were employed for the exploration of ethical, moral, and philosophical questions, coupled with developing responses that evaluated other authors’ proposals as well as own thoughts. Value-systems explored questions such as the best manner for Russians to lead their lives coupled with the actions that addressed the needs for all. Stalin’s regime introduced a new set of values and a legal structure, which was suited to instill them to the mainstream society. Morality was rapidly collapsing as Stalin’s terror saw millions of people killed and others engaged in forced labor.

The state, which at one time sought to represent people-driven changes, was gradually slipping into moral decay and corruption due to poor leadership and ideological conflicts. In the Soviet economy, leaders failed to observe key ethical considerations in the decision-making process. The majority of the resources in the Soviet economy were under the management of a small self-centered group of individuals. The welfare of the public was sacrificed for the sake of sustainability and dominance of these individuals (Dobrenko and Balina 62). These issues were repeatedly discussed through poems, songs, artworks, and novels and translation was done in various languages to ensure that the message reached wide audience.

Boris Pasternak expressed his appeals through poetry to abandon the collectivist tradition and adopt a democratic model that elevated individual freedom. Russians were stereotyped to act collectively and it took the intervention of writers who had acquired global cultural dimensions to explain crucial measures that needed to be incorporated into the Russian culture to achieve the desired change. After the Russian Revolution, Russians expected high levels of individual freedom, but instead leaders substituted this freedom with political patronage in a bid to attain following. People orchestrated social networking for survival, but their efforts were often inflated by the criminal structures controlling the state.

Even when fundamental rights and freedoms were granted, the law failed to protect them and the philosophy of win-lose characterized the 20th century Russia. Citizens were led to obey a leader blindly or forcefully no matter how bad their policies were. Pasternak’s literature defined morality as the way an individual related to the community. The majority of the regimes of the 20th Century in Russia observed self-concerns at the peril of the community needs, hence interfering with the relationship between the government and community.

The authors

Boris Pasternak was one of the influential writers of the Russian literature in the 20th Century. For instance, his work, My Sister Life, dramatically changed the Russian poetry and made him the reference of emerging poets since the 1920s (Dobrenko and Balina 23).

He rewrote his poems about the unsuccessful Russian Revolution of 1905 in order to make its message understandable to the common person. In 1927, Vladimir Maykovsky and Nikolai Aseyev, who were friends to Pasternak, abandoned their initial course to address the issues that affected the public and sought to serve the needs of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Pasternak did not join their new course; instead, he reshaped his style in a bid to make it effective to the masses. This move underscored his genuine will to fight for what was best for the Russian society through poems. Following the censorship of literature by the Stalin authority, Pasternak continued writing, but he never attacked Stalin directly. This aspect generated a silent duel between the two. In the modern era, the Russian literature serves as the arena for continued debate of almost all factors influencing Russian life.

Vladimir Maykovsky described the facts of the Soviet activities in his futuristic-oriented texts. During the time of literature censorship in the Soviet Union, Maykovsky was not ready to be subordinate to the requirements of the Communist Party and decided to publish his works in the West. His work, the Left March, of 1918 was central to establishing a new kind of poetry in which politics served a significant role.

This author demonstrated the impact of the Russia Revolution and the importance of the role played by the public in that revolution (Dobrenko and Balina 44). Ideally, this author wanted to express selflessness and care for the poor and suffering in the Russian society. In his work, he represented the Russian leader of the 20th Century as having a poor image, which was reflected in the poor and unsuccessful regimes that they served. He displayed characteristics of a leader whom would show qualities of an action-oriented leader with a defined cultural sensitivity.

Post-Soviet literature

By the 1990s, many writers had orchestrated the fall of the Communist government. The literary system had successfully disfigured the dominance of the Communist ideals and it was gradually nurturing a new social order for several generations to come. Most notably was the repeal of censorship, which had seen the downfall of significant literatures since most authors were detained or compelled to favor Communist-oriented literature. Novels, poetry, and artworks were the only channel that expressed the reality, which sought to bring genuine change to society by making them understand the circumstances that surrounded their lifestyles. Anti-Soviet literature was seen as the most viable step to fight for extensive development since Russia was now trying to catch up with the life that its people deserved.

All literature works were recorded and translated into many languages for everyone to get the message that could facilitate the transition from the Communist regime. The works by Pasternak were very instructive and they covered almost every aspect of humanity, which could be expressed in writing. The anti-Soviet literature did not seek to criticize the regime, but open the minds of the Russian citizens who faced the consequences of the regime. The authors who had outlived a regime that once opposed them were faced with the challenges of the modernizing literature, but they insisted on conveying the message that sought to enlighten the society about individual freedom.

Conclusion

Russia’s output of outstanding literature during the 20th Century inspired the major changes that shaped the country’s history. Having experienced totalitarianism under the Stalin’s regime and extreme suffering within the course of the two World Wars, it was very hard to find time and space to write. The Russian 20th Century was characterized by Communism ideals that constantly repelled the organized efforts by authors who led the fight against social injustices.

The Soviet regime misused its powers to hold the pressure from the organized positivists. This pressure made the government lose track of the social and economic planning in a bid to concentrate on warding off the detractors of the regime. Despite the changes associated with postmodernism, the Russian era at this time found it hard to achieve objectives outside the Soviet context. Largely, the Russian literature serves as the guide to transformational healing and it provides the public with facts that it could not source elsewhere in a controlled society.

Works Cited

Brown, Edward. Russian Literature since the Revolution, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982. Print.

Dobrenko, Evgeny, and Marina Balina. The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Russian Literature, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

Platt, Kevin, and David Brandenberger. Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Russian Literature in the 20th Century." June 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/russian-literature-in-the-20th-century/.

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