War Theme as a Safe-Conduct in Russian Literature

In the epilogue of Doktor Živago, Boris Pasternak called the Second World War “a cleansing storm,” “a current of fresh air,” “a spirit of deliverance” for Russian people. This seemingly paradoxical statement indeed reveals important issues in Russian history, such as freedom, unity and the resurrection of the people’s true spirit. Along with all the trouble and suffering The Great Patriotic War brought a dramatic change in literary works, both in the themes, choice of heroes, and subject matter. The war theme itself became an indulgence for all kinds of “socialist heresies.” Socialist realism as the only acceptable method could be ignored, new critical views expressed, traditional canonic soviet myths destroyed, required stereotyped characters and situations replaced by previously unacceptable ones.

In my paper I will analyze three of the most important consequences of the war experience in literary works: the introduction of the “trench fraternity” as an ideal community of people free of political and ideological agenda (Nekrasov, Grossman), the restoration of the “village” Russia, its national peasant values and national character (Tvardovskij, Nosov), and the resurrection of humanistic ideals (Platonov, Vasil′ev, Astaf′ev). The war poetry and prose finally established the direct succession with pre-Revolutionary classical Russian literature. I included in my research two generations of writers: the ones who witnessed or personally participated in the war, and those who were children at that time, but the war became the key event and the main reference point in their lives and works. I am planning to answer the following questions in my paper: how the war theme trigged the renaissance of Russian literature, what connected it with the past, what tendencies it helped to develop in the future, why the significance of the war literature can’t be underestimated, and how in spite of the strong censorship was it possible to make a break through rigid canons of Stalinist totalitarian literature.