Puškin’s The Golden Cockerel Revisited

The Golden Cockerel has had a long-standing reputation as one of the most mysterious of Puškin’s works. My intention is to re-examine it and to suggest a new interpretation. In this connection I will pose the following questions: Why did Puškin turn to the Oriental legend, but include it in his collection of Russian tales? What is The Golden Cockerel all about? How does it relate to other Puškin works of 1833–34?

After brief critical examination of existing interpretations (political, biographical, and Freudian), I will make my major point: unlike other Puškin “Russian tales,” The Golden Cockerel is a hybrid of an Oriental fairy tale and a Russian satirical tale, which creates the impression of sharp disharmony. This disharmony reflects a conflict in the two major motifs, Russian and Oriental, which are both not real, but highly conventional. The Orient, represented by the Astrologer, the Šemaxanskaja carica, and the Golden Cockerel, symbolizes evil irrational forces, of which the Russian car′ Dadon becomes the victim.

The idea of the overwhelming power of the irrational over man was haunting Puškin especially in the 1830s. This idea, caused to a large degree by the circumstances of his life, engendered tragic motifs in many of his works of that time. In this connection I intend, by developing the ideas of Michael Èpštejn and Jurij Lotman, to juxtapose The Golden Cockerel with such works of Puškin, as “The Fisherman and the Goldfish,” The Bronze Horseman, and The Queen of Spades.