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2012 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III - Session IV

Solzhenitsyn, Statistics, and the “True Story”

In Time and Narrative, the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur says that in describing the events of great tragedies that “either one counts the cadavers or one tells the story of the victims. Between these two options lies a historical explanation, one that is difficult (if not impossible) to write...” This paper will examine Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s use of narrative and non-narrative elements in his Gulag Archipelago to create a work of literature that seeks to describe the Soviet penal system and its effects on the human soul. Gulag is a complex work much talked about, but seldom studied, largely because the scope of the work encompasses so much more than the normal compass of literary and historical criticisms. This work draws from multiple sources of truth –facts, statistics, anecdotes, narrator digressions and analysis, prose and poetry – as a method for presenting an image of the reality of suffering. Taking note of how Gulag places the reader in a position of accepting or denying the validity of this tragic event, the realities of life and death within the Soviet prison system, this paper will look at how, on a deeply ethical level, Solzhenitsyn explores how horror, suffering, and spiritual catharsis condition what it means to be human. In counting cadavers and telling the victims’ stories, Solzhenitsyn tells the story of a tragic historical event, all the while asking the reader to further seek what it means to be truly human.

Presenter: Brian Gillikin (Houghton College) --
Topic: English/Humanities - Panel
Location: 216 Hartwell
Time: 3:55 pm (Session IV)