Maxim Gorky recounts bitter childhood in a lazy country: Stranger than Fiction

Posted by Hunter Prichard

Maxim Gorky was a great figure in 20th century Russian literature. He was a friend to fascist leader Joseph Stalin and sat with Tolstoy, Andreev and Chekhov until their last days, writing the clever Reminisces... in memory of them.

A writer of drama, poetry and prose, he is famous for his political views — he was supposedly murdered by Russian secret agents — and his audacious characters, who are often found in ruins at the close of the book.

My favorite is "The Man Who Was Afraid," which can be found in our library and concerns a character who is born into wealth but ends up a drunk living on the streets.

He is commonly known as a great Russian who rose up from the peasants. The victim of a hard life, it is easy to see why he changed his named from Aleksey Peshkov to simply Gorky, a word that can be translated to "bitter."

Since his novels were so interesting, I was eager to read of his past, of which he wrote extensively. His three-volume autobiography follows his life from birth until he finished schooling and entered the writing world.

I read the first book of the volume, "My Childhood": it is a frightening depiction of a young boy's life.

Gorky's first memories are the funeral of his father when he was three years old. His brother also died. His mother took him to live with her parents, two angry elders who constantly fight and scream at each other.

Not only is Gorky beaten many times — not an uncommon occurrence during his time period — but his grandmother is also horrendously abused by his grandfather. As a young boy, Gorky is greatly disturbed by this violence.

The writing is rich with violence, abuse and drunkenness. Young Gorky is an intellectual loner, shunned by most of the boys in his neighborhood. When he is allowed to play, his grandfather yells at him and tells him to get to work; his overbearing direction is similar to Hank's father is Bukowski's "Ham on Rye," for those who remember my previous article.

His mother seems to float in and out of his life. She takes long trips where she travels about and stays with relatives who have enough money to support her. She is rarely present in Gorky's life, but her death closes the book. Immediately following her funeral, he is told by his grandmother to leave home to travel.

There are some very interesting comments that young Gorky makes in terms of the Russian people. The most fascinating concern is "the Russian laziness," a disease that he finds inflicting everybody in the country.

This laziness is Gorky's excuse for all of his life's hardships: his family's poverty, his father's death, his grandfather's anger, his grandmother's submission. He finds this laziness disgusting.

Laziness is one of the main motives to why Gorky worked so hard in his life, produced so much writing and struggled so hard in his political sphere.

Hunter Prichard is an English major from Portland, Maine, or "Vacationland."

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