"Why not?" — Cultural Assimilation and Moral Decline in Zhabontinskij's Pjatero

Otto Boele, University of Groningen

According to the narrator in Pjatero the family Mil'grom exemplifies the process of Jewish russification at the beginning of the twentieth century. Estranged from their cultural roots and almost fully assimilated, the children lack a sense of purpose in their lives losing themselves in either real or "intellectual debauchery" (Naximovskij). The simple phrase "Why not?" which Serezh;a Mil'grom deems sufficient justification for any of his dubious endeavors, thus comes to embody the alleged moral disorientation of an entire generation of Russified Jews.

In my paper I will examine the issue of moral dissolution in Pjatero in the broader context of the interrevolutionary decade (1907–1917). I will seek to demonstrate that while reaffirming the once popular image of this period as an age of moral decline, Zhabotinskij simultaneously appropriates and reconceptualizes it for his own specific purposes. In Pjatero the period's "moral void," so often bemoaned by its witnesses in political terms, is retrospectively presented as a drama of cultural assimilation. Specific attention will be paid to the role of the narrator who, I will argue, should not be seen simply as a mouthpiece for the author.