Contradictions in the depiction of Stalinist time in contemporary prose

The motive of meeting

Keywords: Estonian Soviet literature, socialist realism, democracy, authoritarity

Stalinist literature has not received much attention from the aesthetic viewpoint. True, this could not even be expected of the criticism of the time, but a certain inconsistency can hardly escape the eye of today’s reader. The reason probably lies in the internal contradiction of socialist realism – the incompatibility of realistic vs romantic or utopian modality. Things were required to be depicted at once as they were and as they should or would be in the future.

The article is focused on the depiction of meeting as one of the recurring motives in stories set in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Here the contradiction is in that the relatively realistic and democratic portrayals of meetings evolve into a utopistic unanimity of the so-called workpeople’s democracy, which is seen as the democratic ideal of the bright future. Such transition is accounted for by the dialectic of spontaneity and consciousness as a subtext of the social realist masterplot: in the course of the meeting the volatile force of the working people is transformed into a conscious Soviet-minded citizenship. Although the elaboration of the subtext can clearly be followed, the emphasis tends to shift from a convincing portrayal of the characters to that of the main character’s leadership. In this way, many a meeting in artistic representation (as an abstraction of social relations) unintentionally discloses its authoritarian essence.


Inga Sapunjan (b. 1986), MA, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, PhD ­Student (Ülikooli 16, 51014 Tartu),