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Журнальный клуб Интелрос » Лабиринт » №4, 2013

U. Stohler
The function of the bear in Boris Polevoi’s Story about a real man

The notion of a defeated bear as a symbol for the victory of civilisation over the wilderness of nature exists in the West as well as in the East. In Berne, the capital of Switzerland, for instance, there exists the tradition of holding bears in dens in the middle of the city. According to the legend, the bear was the first wild animal the founder of the city killed at the place that should later on become Berne. In the East, we find hints at a similar imagery in Boris Polevoi´s novel Story about a Real Man (Повесть о настоящем человеке, 1946) [14]. This classic of Russian Socialist Realism captivated generations of readers, who were fascinated by its combination of an adventure story with the Stalinist ideal of a man who survives natural and other adversities by pure willpower [22, p. 416; 23, p. 119]. Polevoi drew on the experiences of the Soviet pilot Aleksei Mares´ev (1916—2001) during the Second World War. In his novel, Polevoi uses a name for his main protagonist that is almost identical with the one of this real person, changing just one letter (MEres´ev). The author thus underlines the reference to the experiences Mares´ev had. Studies on Polevoi´s Story about a Real Man do not tend to highlight or analyse the function of the bear in this work, even though a considerable body of literature was dedicated to this classic of Socialist Realism. The reason for this gap might be that reviewers preferred drawing attention to the heroic deed of the main protagonist, who symbolized progress and willpower. By addressing the topic of the bear the reviewers would have focussed on a figure that represents those aspects that the new political order meant to overcome, i. e. absence of civilisation.

The studies on Story about a Real Man that were inspired by Soviet ideology were mainly concerned with the question to what extent this work was based on facts and how much of it was fiction. Virtually all of these studies emphasised Polevoi´s activity as a wartime reporter and claimed that his notebooks and diaries of that time served him as a basis for his works, thus stressing the alleged validity of the events described. In the 1940s, when Story about a Real Man first appeared, some studies included critical analyses of this work. One reviewer, for instance, pointed to weaknesses such as technical inaccuracies on the topic of aviation, strong similarities to Jack London´s works, in particular to his short story „Love of Life“, or to the somewhat static description of the main character´s inner life

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