The first impression of the story “Easy Breathing” put me in a state of some kind of incomprehensible feeling, bewilderment, a feeling of unfinished events, as if some secret of the author had eluded me. I wanted to re-read it again, go deeper, understand the secret meaning of the work and trace the techniques used by I. Bunin to achieve the effect of mystery. To do this, you need to analyze the story.
Let’s start with the history of creation. I. Bunin’s story is written on the eve of the First World War. During this period, the situation in the country is quite tense. And the questions of “life”, “death” and “meaning of life” were widely discussed in journalism. The old theories are being replaced by new ones. The most popular was the theory of “living life”, which was preached by the famous realist writer V. Veresaev. In his opinion, to live a “living life” means to follow nature, to be imbued with a sense of the inexhaustible intrinsic value of life. Its meaning is in itself, it in itself is of the greatest value, regardless of its content. These theories and disputes are reflected in some of Bunin’s stories, including the story “Light Breath”.
Bunin writes about the idea as follows: “One winter I wandered into a small cemetery in Capri and came across a grave cross with a photographic portrait on a convex porcelain medallion of some little girl with unusually lively and joyful eyes. I immediately made this girl in my mind Russian, Olya Meshcherskaya, and, dipping a pen in an inkwell, began to invent a story with that delightful speed that happened in some of the happiest moments of my writing.
The plot itself (storyline) is very trivial. A provincial schoolgirl, the story of her fall into sin, indicated by just one phrase addressed to the head of the gymnasium, and small excerpts from the diary, a dissolute, in fact, and such a short life, and a nightmarish ending – the murder of a girl by a Cossack officer, whose heart was broken by Olya. It is noteworthy that this entire storyline, despite all the tragedy, is presented in a calm tone, as if by the way. And the feeling of tragedy does not remain at all in the finale.
Bunin called his story “Easy breathing”. The title sets you up for the perception of something light, bright, joyful. How can breathing be light? After all, this is something initially light, familiar. Breathing is given by nature, it is natural for every person and is not a difficult job. However, the author wanted to emphasize that light breathing is something elusive and very short-lived.
In the story, “light breathing” turns from an ordinary detail of a portrait into a leitmotif, a “musical” key, the main lyrical theme, which is reinforced by the use of other words with the root “dykh-”: “the field air blows freshly”, “the office that breathed so well on frosty days with the warmth of a shiny Dutch woman”, “took only one deep breath.” This motive from the first lines bursts into the story with a “cold wind” and “rings like a porcelain wreath at the foot of the cross”, not at all corresponding to the mood of the initial chord of the story: “light breathing” and a cemetery.
Bunin compares the main character – Olya Meshcherskaya – with “light breathing”, because Olya lived her whole short but bright life as if in one breath – “light breathing”. This is evidenced by the following lines: “without any worries and efforts somehow everything that so distinguished her from the whole gymnasium came to her imperceptibly – grace, elegance, dexterity, a clear sparkle in her eyes, “” she began to flourish, develop by leaps and bounds, “” she rushed like a whirlwind around the assembly hall from chasing after her and blissfully squealing first-graders”, “and there was already talk that she was windy” – nature gave her what many would like to have.
The author even gives the name of his heroine harmonious and light. Olya Meshcherskaya … Let’s remember Paustovsky. Meshchery is denseness, untouchedness. When applied to the main character, this means the “denseness” of consciousness, its underdevelopment and at the same time originality. Phonosemantic assessment of the name shows that the image of the word gives the impression of something good, beautiful, simple, safe, kind, strong, bright. Against her background, death seems absurd and does not look sinister. It is no coincidence that I. Bunin begins the story with a message about the death of Olya, this deprives this fact of the murder of emotional coloring. So the reader is puzzled not by the result of life, but by the dynamics of life itself, Olya’s story.
The image of the boss is opposed to the image of Olya Meshcherskaya. Unlike the boss, the girl cares little about how others perceive her. In addition, the opposition lies in the appearance of the heroines, hairstyles are compared. Olya Meshcherskaya draws attention to the “smooth parting in milky, neatly ruffled hair”, which, apparently, takes a lot of time to create. And Olya, having learned that her boss is calling her, preens in just a few seconds: “She stopped with a run, took only one deep breath, straightened her hair with a quick and already familiar female movement.” And this is already familiar to her. The boss is annoyed by Olya’s frivolous behavior, her simple and cheerful answers.
The image of a cool lady is presented to the reader at the end of the story. The author pays a lot of attention to the image of a classy lady. She doesn’t have a name. The reader meets “a little woman in mourning, in black kid gloves, with an ebony umbrella” heading towards the cemetery. The author’s choice of symbolic details said everything about this woman. She goes to Olya’s grave, does not take her eyes off the oak cross, which from the very beginning symbolizes the common life cross. The little woman does not just look at the cross, she carries the cross of life. She cannot be happy. Her mourning is not so much mourning for Olya, but evidence that the life of a classy lady is an endless mourning.
We learn about Alexei Mikhailovich Malyutin from the diary of Olya Meshcherskaya: “he is fifty-six years old, but he is still very handsome and always well dressed.” Malyutin, who is old enough to be Olya’s grandfather, has sexual relations with the child, thus violating social norms. Malyutin committed a crime, but for the hero this is a deliberate overstepping of boundaries, which he motivates with literary allusions and flirtations. I would like to ask the question: what was this man thinking about, how could he afford to take such a reckless vile step? After all, he was a friend and neighbor of the father of this young girl, which means that he knew Olya for a long time and she was almost like his own. The motivation of his behavior is revealed through the portrait. In her diary, Olya several times emphasizes the youthfulness (pseudo-youth) of the hero, and this youthfulness is depicted on the rise: first Olya notes that Malyutin is “still very handsome”, and then describes the “very young” black eyes. Olya also notes “… was He was very lively and behaved like a gentleman with me, he joked a lot that he had been in love with me for a long time. These actions of Malyutin do not at all correlate with his old age! The name and patronymic of the hero significantly coincides with the name and patronymic of the sovereign ancestor of that very “young tsar”, whose portrait the girl “really liked”; and his last name – Malyutin – provokes the reader to remember the favorite of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, Malyuta Skuratov.
The image of the schoolboy Shenshin is mentioned only once in the story “…her gymnasium fame has imperceptibly strengthened, and rumors have already begun that she is windy, that she cannot live without admirers, that the schoolboy Shenshin is madly in love with her, that she is his loves, but is so changeable in dealing with him that he attempted suicide…” Shenshin expected constancy from Olya and could not forgive her changeable nature. For I.A. Bunin, this image is important. Many details of Shenshin’s image remain unknown to the reader, for example, the author does not give accurate information about the hero’s suicide, but relies on rumors that circulate in the gymnasium.
I.A. Bunin describes the events in the story “Light Breath” through the eyes of several participants at once. On five pages, he covers the life of Olya Meshcherskaya from different points of view.
The short story by I.A. Bunin “Easy Breath” has long been an example of an unusual, “inverted” construction of the composition. As you know, the first to note this feature and tried to explain it back in the 20s. 20th century L.S. Vygotsky in one of the chapters of his book “The Psychology of Art”
The composition of the work has a ring structure, i.e. is a story within a story. The “frame” is the description of the cemetery and one of the graves (beginning) and the woman who visits this grave, reflecting on the fate of the girl buried here (end). The fate of the girl is at the center of the story. The story about her also has a non-standard composition: the plot of the story, the reasons for the internal drama of Olya Meshcherskaya become clear after the tragic death of the girl.
The plot of the story, moved to the end, illuminates the whole story in a new way, which makes it possible to feel it especially sharply. Only at the end of the story is it revealed that Olya Meshcherskaya is not empty and dissolute, but unhappy and cruel, primarily towards herself. And death, perhaps, is exactly what she was striving for.
A feature of the composition of “Light Breath” is its mismatch with the disposition (the chronological order of events). If you highlight the semantic parts of the text, it turns out that each part breaks off at the moment of the highest emotional stress. At the beginning of the work, it should be noted the interweaving of contrasting motifs of life and death. The description of the city cemetery, the monotonous ringing of a porcelain wreath create a sad mood. Against this background, the portrait of a schoolgirl with joyful, amazingly lively eyes is especially expressive. The next sentence (This is Olya Meshcherskaya) is separated into a separate paragraph. In Bunin’s story, the mentioned name does not yet mean anything, but we are already involved in the action. Many questions arise: “Who is this girl? What is the cause of her death?” The author deliberately hesitates to answer, maintaining the intensity of perception.
The main compositional technique that Bunin uses is antithesis, that is, opposition. The author uses it from the very first lines: the theme of life and death prevails at the beginning of the story. Bunin begins with a description of the cross: “heavy, strong,” a symbol of death. He contrasts clear, sunny April days with gray days (gloomy, inanimate). Instead of fresh flowers, there is a porcelain wreath on the grave, personifying lifelessness, death. All this gloomy description is contradicted by the image of Olya Meshcherskaya: “A rather large, convex porcelain medallion is embedded in the very cross, and in the medallion there is a photographic portrait of a schoolgirl with joyful, amazingly lively eyes. This is Olya Meshcherskaya.” Bunin does not say directly that this is the grave of Olya Meshcherskaya, as if he does not want to associate this cheerful and cheerful girl with the cemetery, with death.
When describing the life of a girl in a gymnasium, the author again turns to the antithesis: “as a girl, she did not stand out in the crowd of brown gymnasium dresses,” but unlike her peers, who were very careful about their appearance and face, she “was not afraid of anything – not ink spots on the fingers, no flushed face, no disheveled hair, no bloated knee when falling on the run. Bunin constantly emphasizes that Olya Meshcherskaya was the best in everything: in skating, in dancing, she was looked after like no other schoolgirl. No one else was loved by the lower classes as much as her! Olya’s life – cheerful, without worries, constantly on the move – does not correspond in any way with the image of the cemetery. She swept through this life like a whirlwind, a bright star. He even contrasts Malyutin and the Cossack officer. Malyutin is a handsome elderly man, and the Cossack officer does not stand out in any way.
Bunin constantly emphasizes her eyes: “clear sparkle of eyes”, “shining eyes”. Light is a symbol of life. He introduces a rhetorical question: “Is it possible that under him is the one whose eyes shine so immortally from this convex porcelain medallion on the cross, and how to combine with this pure look that terrible thing that is now connected with the name of Olya Meshcherskaya?” Even after death, the eyes shine “immortally”.
The author distracts the reader from seemingly significant events, clutters them up with words. For example, the word “shot” is extinguished by the author among the description of an officer and a platform, a crowd of people, a train that has just arrived. Thus, our attention is persistently directed to some secret springs of Olya’s life.
The motive of a woman runs like a red thread through the entire story of I. A. Bunin.
Let us first dwell on its verbal incarnations. The words woman and female are mentioned 7 times in the story. For the first time this word is heard in a conversation between Olya Meshcherskaya and the school principal. “It’s a woman’s hairstyle!” – the boss says reproachfully. “… I am a woman,” Olya answers her. Then this word is mentioned in Olya’s diary: “Today I have become a woman!” After Olya’s death, a “little woman” comes to her grave – a cool lady (the word “woman” is mentioned 3 times ). And, finally, at the end of the story, the words of Olya herself are again cited about “what beauty a woman should have.” Following the use of this motive in the story, we can conclude that Olya Meshcherskaya in her actions is guided by the desire to become a woman, but the transformation into a woman turns out to be completely different from what the girl imagined. The author reveals to us not only the beauty of the girl, of course, not her experience, but only these undeveloped wonderful opportunities. They, according to the author, cannot disappear, just as the craving for beauty, fortunately, for perfection, never disappears.
Beauty and death, love and separation – the eternal themes that have received such a touching and enlightened embodiment in the work of I. A. Bunin, excite us today:
And it comes to me
The light of your smile
Not a plate, not a crucifix
Still in front of me
And shining eyes.