The Nature of Narration and Didactic Discourse in Zoščenko’s “Lelja i Min′ka” Cycle

David Vernikov, University of Wisconsin, Madison

This paper concerns itself with the narrative strategies employed in Zoščenko’s “Lelja i Min′ka” cycle insofar as they are manifest in the narrator of its eight constituent stories. While Zoščenko’s narrator has been the subject of much critical investigation, his stories for children have generally been regarded as having minimal significance within his oeuvre. Nevertheless an investigation of the manner in which morality is presented in these stories enables one to shed light upon what has generally been considered the most important part of Zoščenko’s creative output.

Throughout the course of the cycle, the narrator’s textual space oscillates between that of a character and that of the implied author, whereas his function gravitates respectively towards either the narrative or the didactic modes of storytelling. Thus the narrator serves not only as a marker and device of unity for the entire cycle, but also designates a point of convergence of a number of different narrative modes and provides a means of translating and organizing of information belonging to different narrative, cultural, and psychological systems.

The didactic “avtor” of this cycle straddles first and foremost the boundaries between the logical and perceptive systems of children and adults, being himself both the child Min’ka and the adult “avtor”. There is considerable contamination between the two, which provides the opportunity for a number of ambivalent readings. The definitive child/adult dichotomy within the cycle is closely connected to two others that are crucial in Zoščenko’s other work: namely the conflation of pre- and post-revolutionary cultural systems, and the translation of biblical morality into literary idiom.