The Goat in the Machine of Gladkov’s Cement

Christopher J. Syrnyk, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Although “highly ritualized” (as Katerina Clark has observed in The Soviet Novel), the Socialist Realist space of Gladkov’s Cement initially is permeated with imagery that performs an explicit allegorical function. Along with a host of more conventional associations (sexual suggestiveness and seduction, social deterioration, being also the animal of tragedy, and of ritual sacrifice for expiation of wrong-doing) here the image of the goat further symbolizes a society with unchecked (Gemeinschaft) tendencies that are in conflict with the proscribed, greater post-Civil War (Gesellschaft) expectations. What occurs, ostensibly on a subconscious level, is the society’s unperceived “ritual identification” with the goats—the goat being reduced to an emblem of the accursed and of reprobateness—for it is the goats, on one level, that the people will hold responsible for their problems, and not their lack of responsibility for themselves. This society, not out of nostalgia (as Clark correctly attests), actively and fundamentally cultivates a misconception of itself in relation to its “struggle with nature” (i.e., the goat) to aid its new worldview. This does not read as an “affinity for nature” nor does it appear to be a triumph of “man” over “beast,” for these people ultimately deceive themselves by misinterpreting “transference of evil” for “displacement of blame” in how they tend to this problem of the goats, and the goats’ subsequent forced departure (escape).

The goat image, then, functions as a societal indicator reflecting the poor quality of the people, their relative inanity, and their secular trespasses and disobedience to the will of the party: obviously these people are in dire need of a productive redemption. Their lack of insight, perhaps even suppression of insight, with respect to the goats facilitates the self-deception necessary for their progress and success with respect to their factory’s, and society’s, renovation. Or, what becomes significant is the extent to which the misunderstanding of this symbol becomes essential to their social project concerning the factory’s rejuvenation. They must suppress their previous perceptions of themselves and misread their understanding of these animals as symbols, as they themselves have become identified with the goats, in order to succeed in this new society.

As such, the image of the goat permeates the first quarter (throughout the first sixty-eight of 311 pages) of the novel, only later to be erased completely from the narrative and the consciousness of the characters when the image is no longer needed. We witness the beguiling influence of this image from the outset as in the following: “In the square, beyond the wall, a mob of dirty children were playing, and paunchy, snake-eyed goats roamed, nibbling at bushes or acacia roots” (Arthur and Ashleigh’s translation). The children are physically associating with the goats, and have literally, willingly, taken on some of their unfavorable characteristics. I am interested in whether it is Nature that has truly invaded this society, or rather, that the people have willingly accepted its presence and attendant persuasion. Gladkov, especially in these sixty-eight or so pages, seems to reinforce this notion, because several paragraphs later: “Like giddy maidens, the goats scream and laugh with the children. … What’s this? Goats, poultry, and pigs? This used to be strictly forbidden.” Clearly the goats and inhabitants are running amok, fouling up the would-be Communist purity, and the people are unable to separate their identity from the goats’. These people must choose to embrace and accept an either/or lack of social continence, or they must rid themselves of their goat-related image. The goat image, however, never quite attains leitmotif status in the novel, for Gladkov suddenly dispenses with the image at a critical point in the text, and the reader is then left to ponder the affects of its absence on this society. In this respect, the goat, like many secondary characters, becomes a “cancelled character”; its presence has been made necessary only to substantiate a narrative requirement. Thus, Gladkov demonstrates how the people, when they no longer associate with the goats, (when the goats and the people are no longer conflated by their actual association) now clearly benefit from the absence of the goats. The society has literally found it necessary to escape from the goats in order to avoid the “tragedy” (“goat-song”) of their pronounced presence, and its affects on the mentality of the burgeoning Soviet machine society.

This paper, by explication, as well as by using Katerina Clark’s work on the Soviet novel, and Sir James George Frazer’s classic work on the scapegoat, will examine how this striking image contributes to the societal misreadings inherent in this classic production novel, tracing how its development and eventual erasure are necessary for the promotion of the appropriate Soviet worldview. The paper will consider the 1925 redaction of Gladkov’s novel, which arguably is the most popular version and accepted as the most literary, as it first appeared in Red Virgin Soil. I likewise consider the several redactions of the novel, Cement (1932), Sočinenija (5 vols.; 1950), Sobranie sočinenij (8 vols.; 1958), as well as S. N. Smirnova’s “Kak sozdavalsja Cement” in Tekstologija proizvedenij sovetskoj literatury, IV (M.: AN SSSR, 1967). For scholarship on various redactions I have likewise benefited from Robert L. Busch’s article on Cement SEEJ 22:3 (1978). I have likewise profited from a post-research finding of a related treatment of this topic by Samir Elbarbary concerning James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. By examining the history of this image in Cement, I will be able to consider its diachronic importance, and ultimately its relevance for Gladkov’s development of his narrative, and how the affects of its presence and absence demonstrate this aberration of social and cultural insight.