Mikhail Sholokhov

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sholokhov, Mikhail Aleksandrovich


Born May 11 (24), 1905, in the khutor (farmstead) of Kruzhilin of the stanitsa (large cossack village) of Veshenskaia, Oblast of the Don Host (now Veshenskii Raion, Rostov Oblast). Soviet Russian writer. Academician of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (1939). Hero of Socialist Labor (1967). Member of the CPSU from 1932. Member of the Central Committee of the CPSU from 1961.

Sholokhov, who was of peasant birth, fought in the Civil War. His early short stories, first published in newspapers and magazines in 1923, were later collected in Tales of the Don and The Azure Steppe, both published in 1926. Sholokhov’s stories represented a notable contribution to the Soviet literature of the first half of the 1920’s; their themes were the Civil War in the Don region, the bitter class struggle, the place of the individual in the great social changes taking place in the villages and rural areas, and the author’s dream of a new world of social justice.

In 1925, Sholokhov began writing The Quiet Don (books 1–4, 1928–40; State Prize of the USSR, 1941), the novel that brought him world renown. The idea of history’s lawlike regularity underlies the novel’s intricate structure and plot. Sholokhov depicts the grandeur of the struggle between two worlds—the breakup of established social relations, traditions, and customs and the emergence and establishment of new ones. The novel deals with very important social issues, such as the relationship between the individual and the people’s historic destiny, the question of historical necessity and freedom of choice, and the historical circumstances that give rise to tragic conflicts and dramatic outcomes. In The Quiet Don, Sholokhov creatively develops the traditions of epic narration of “people’s destinies,” portraying the broad-scale movement of the masses as part of the historical process. The people are the novel’s hero.

Sholokhov’s poetic world is the world of high tragedy, with strong and clear-cut characters acting at critical moments in history. The story of the life of Grigorii Melekhov is not merely part of the dramatic history of the Don Cossacks; it also reflects historical processes of enormous social and psychological importance. The figure of Grigorii Melekhov was an innovation in world literature. His personality is revealed through full exposition of his feelings in a variety of circumstances. The wide range of Sholokhov’s psychological analysis is a typical aspect of his artistic skill.

Sholokhov’s evaluative ability is an important attribute of his skill at psychological analysis. The people’s revolutionary struggle, taken as the objective criterion of evaluation, makes it possible to separate Melekhov’s historically justified delusions from his guilt. At history’s sudden turning points, Grigorii is constantly faced with the need to choose. The social tragedy is carried over into the depths of consciousness; its sources lie in the hero himself—in his social ambivalence and contradictions. Grigorii has rejected the old world, but he neither understands nor trusts the truth of the new reality confirmed in blood, struggle, and suffering, and he is ultimately left behind at the crossroads of history.

The truly great artist is the one who can see reality in all its complexity and conditionality and perceive the stern objective laws by which it is governed. The technique used by Sholokhov in depicting the character and fate of Grigorii Melekhov played a significant part in the development of the method of socialist realism. The revolutionary masses so powerfully portrayed in The Quiet Don affirm the optimistic idea of the triumph of life—the victory of the new through trials and suffering—and convey the grandeur of the changes taking place. The heroic spirit that pervades the novel arises from its historical optimism; it arises from the affirmation of the majesty of life and the greatness of the deed.

Virgin Soil Upturned (books 1–2,1932–60; Lenin Prize 1960) is an epic novel about the year 1930 and the revolutionary changes in village life. The first part of the novel (book 1) is basically constructed as a “case history”; the story of a kolkhoz in Gremiachii, it is a novel with many heroes. One of Sholokhov’s aesthetic principles is to rely as much as possible on actual historical situations. This first part of Virgin Soil Upturned resounds with the full force of the emotions attendant upon the transformation of society, the abolishment of old forms of ownership, and the difficult birth of new social relations. The novel’s heroes, aware that their life’s purpose is to serve the great cause of the people, are the agents of and participants in the novel’s historical events; the author’s well-defined and intensely individualized characterization of three Communists—Davydov, assigned by the party to carry out the collectivization of the countryside, Razmetnov, and Nagul’nov—helps reveal the meaning of these great events.

The second part of the novel (book 2) captivates the reader with its lyrical “poetry of feelings”; the author’s voice is now more markedly poetic. Hence the unique manner in which the plot is developed—the external slowness of the action, the many stories told by the heroes about themselves, the protracted conversations, and the more intense focus on relations in which intimate feelings are revealed. One of the most highly valued aspects of Sholokhov’s talent is his ability to see and to vividly reproduce both the tragic and the humorous in life. The character of Grandfather Shchukar’, for example, is marvelously conceived. The novel abounds with meditations on what constitutes genuine humaneness, on the paths of progress, and on historical necessity.

During the Great Patriotic War, Sholokhov’s essays were published in various periodicals and in such collections as On the Don, In the South, and The Cossacks. His short story “The Sciences of Hatred” (1942) was widely read. Chapters from his novel They Fought for Their Fatherland were first printed in Pravda and Krasnaia Zvezda in 1943–44. Sholokhov’s goal in this novel (which appeared in a later version in 1969) was to record the people’s heroic wartime feats.

The short story “Fate of a Man” (1956–57) was a notable event in socialist art. The tragic story of Andrei Sokolov is shown to be conditioned by and related to the historic trials that the war inflicted on the people, the state, and the individual. This enables the author to present man and war in large-scale and generalized terms, to place them in historical perspective, and to show the incompatibility of the socialist and fascist worlds. The underlying theme of the story is faith in goodness, humanity, and social progress—the affirmation of life and of the great deed.

Sholokhov is one of the great masters of the literature of socialist realism. His novels were the first in the history of world literature to show the working people in all their wealth of types and characters; his protagonists are so fully portrayed in social, moral, and emotional terms that they have joined the ranks of the lasting figures of world literature.

In his novels, Sholokhov combined the poetic heritage of the Russian people with the advances of the realistic novel of the 19th and 20th centuries; he discovered previously unknown links between the spiritual and the material and new connections between man and the world around him. Sholokhov’s epic body of work represents man, society, and nature as manifestations of the eternally creative stream of life; it is their unity and interdependence that give Sholokhov’s world its uniquely poetic character. His works have been translated into most of the languages of the peoples of the USSR and of the world.

Sholokhov was a deputy to the first through ninth convocations of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. He has been a member of the board of directors of the Writers’ Union of the USSR since 1934 and has been a member of the World Peace Council. He is honorary doctor of philological sciences of the University of Rostov-on-Don and the University of Leipzig and honorary doctor of law of the University of St. Andrews. He was awarded four Orders of Lenin and two other orders, as well as various medals and a foreign order. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1965.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1–8. Moscow, 1965–69.
Onisrazhalis’ za Rodinu. Moscow, 1971. (Chapters from the novel.)
Po veleniiu dushi: Stat’i, ocherki, vystupleniia, dokumenty. Moscow, 1970.


Lezhnev, I. Put’ Sholokhova: Tvorch. biografiia. Moscow, 1958.
Gura, V. Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo M. A. Sholokhova. Moscow, 1960.
Britikov, A. Masterstvo Mikhaila Sholokhova. Moscow-Leningrad, 1964.
Petelin, V. Gumanizm Sholokhova. Moscow, 1965.
Iakimenko, L. Mikhail Sholokhov: Lit. portret. Moscow, 1967.
Iakimenko, L. Tvorchestvo M. A. Sholokhova, 3rd ed., revised and expanded. Moscow, 1977.
Priima, K. I. ”Tikhii Don” srazhaetsia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1975.
Lukin, Iu. Dva portreta. Moscow, 1975.
Metchenko, A. Mudrost’ khudozhnika. Moscow, 1976.
Biriukov, F. G. Khudozhestv. otkrytiia Mikhaila Sholokhova. Moscow, 1976.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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