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Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel : The first circle McKay, John Nichol

Abstract

The Russian novel V kruge pervom (The First Circle) shows its author, Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, to be a socially conscious writer and a man who is acutely aware of the spiritual dilemmas of modern man. The ethical questions to which he devotes himself in this novel are placed within the context of a moral philosophy which derives its essence from the Slavophiles of the nineteenth century. As a critic of modern tendencies, Solzhenitsyn is agitated about a lack of interest in man as an individual. The essential message conveyed by the novel is that man is in a materialistic impasse, and the way out of that impasse resides in a greater understanding of his functions as a human being. The author deprecates any system of thought and organized mode of life which tends to take a mechanistic view of man and to depersonalize the basis of human relations. As the symbolic conscience of modern Russia, he restores to Russian literature the humanism and moral universalism which characterized the tradition of critical realism of the previous century. For Solzhenitsyn freedom is a spiritual matter. The right to speak freely and to publish one's thoughts is not, for him, just as it was not for the Slavophiles before him, a political right, but a natural endowment. His courageous defence of this principle and his unwavering loyalty to and pursuit of Truth have won him international respect, which culminated in the award of the Nobel Prize in 1970. In its literary and philosophical qualities, The First Circle (and all his published work) distinguishes Solzhenitsyn from his contemporaries as the leading prosaist of the Soviet Union. The First Circle is genuine realism, the very antithesis of the contrived novels which dominate Soviet prose under that ruinous prescription of "socialist realism." This thesis is presented in an introduction, three central chapters and a conclusion. The INTRODUCTION traces the background and setting of the novel. CHAPTER I turns to its structure and style. CHAPTER II treats the language of the camps and prisons. The First Circle is a rare source of this slang diction and is therefore a valuable contribution to linguistics. CHAPTER III examines the problems of ethics which disturb the author and which are considered to be the most important side of his novel. The CONCLUSION summarizes Solzhenitsyn's significance as a modern author and comments on his defence of freedom of speech and the creative word.

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