Sociological analysis of a literary text

Government of the Russian Federation

National Research University

“High School of Economics”

Faculty of Social Sciences

Educational program “State and municipal management”


On the discipline “Sociology”

on the topic:

Sociological analysis of a literary text

Completed by a 1st year student of the State Medical University

BGU 164

Belkina Svetlana

Moscow 2016

For sociological analysis, I chose M. Gorky’s play “At the Bottom”. I am referring to this work for the second time, and it is worth noting that, having studied materials on general sociology, some episodes of the play became clearer to me, others aroused more interest and a desire to consider them in more detail, which I will do in this essay.

The play takes place at the beginning of the 20th century. By this period of Russian history, many social contradictions had developed in society, for example, between the authorities and the people, the bourgeoisie and the workers, the intelligentsia and the authorities. The German philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel described the theory of conflict in a number of his works (“Sociology”, “Conflict and group ties”, etc.); in his opinion, social conflict is inevitable, as well as performing an important positive function in society and leading to progress and development. [1] However, it is impossible to deny that despite the fact that at the macro level, conflict situations can have a positive effect, at the individual level, the consequences of such global contradictions can be marginality, deviant behavior, cognitive dissonance, and others. We can observe the manifestation of all of the above in the play, because these definitions characterize the heroes of the analyzed work.

The inhabitants of the rooming house are people who find themselves at the very bottom of the social ladder: beggars, the unemployed, prostitutes, criminals, thieves. These are people who have lost morality, not susceptible to feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and sociologists attribute these feelings to psychological mechanisms for monitoring compliance with social norms, which is one of the components of morality.

Consider the age composition of the small social group represented in the work: it is diverse, it includes two generations. Although the age of the rooming house residents ranges from 20 to 60 years old, it is rather difficult to notice a significant difference in the values that each generation shares. They all despise their beggarly position. Of course, everyone has different ways of dealing with this situation (for example, Kleshch sees salvation in work, and Satin, on the contrary, despises work), and for some who have resigned, they are simply absent. Perhaps the main storyline of the play is two opposing positions, which can also be called values, about what is more necessary for a person: the truth or a beautiful lie. These two views throughout the entire novel are mostly expressed by only two people – Satin and Luka. M. Mead in his work “Culture and the World of Childhood” distinguishes three types of cultures: postfigurative, cofigurative, prefigurative. [2] It seems to me that a post-figurative culture is clearly widespread among the inhabitants of the rooming house, a culture in which the younger generation adopts the experience of the older ones and there are no significant differences between generations, since the changes proceed very slowly and in most cases are insignificant. So, many listened to the advice of Luka, who is a representative of the older generation, but they laughed at the young Nastya, although she had something to learn from her, for example, the ability to love. If we talk about continuity from parents, then in this case we turn to the episode where Ash explains why he is a thief.

Ash. My path is marked for me! My parent spent all his life in prisons and ordered me too … When I was little, that’s what they called me at that time a thief, a son of thieves … // M. Gorky “At the bottom” Act two

From this replica of Ash, it is clear that his future was predetermined by his parents and the environment in which he grew up. This is a clear sign of post-figurative culture according to M. Mead.

The episode cited earlier is also interesting from the point of view of another theory. Namely, the theory of psychological justification of deviation. Deviations exist in two main destructive forms – delinquent and criminal behavior. Delinquent behavior is a set of illegal acts that do not fall under criminal punishment, but are already a minor offense. Criminal behavior falls under criminal punishment, so in the case of Ash, we are talking about it. The essence of psychological theory is that criminal inclinations are associated with a certain type of personality, in particular, with the characteristics of the development of the individual’s character. The family, as a social group, is the first agent of socialization for the child. It is impossible to deny that the close environment has a great influence on the formation of a person’s character. In accordance with the identified agents of socialization by American cultural anthropologists headed by G. Barry, it can be noted that to a greater extent the child, and, consequently, the formation of his character, is influenced by socializers, authorities, educators, companions, because their functions include broadcasting values and norms, the transfer of knowledge and skills, and not just being around in the case of cohabitants or satisfying physical needs in the case of guardians. [3] Parents had a great influence on the formation of Ash’s personality.

Ash. I – from childhood – a thief … everyone always told me: Vaska is a thief, Vaska’s son is a thief! Yeah? So? Well – come on! Here – I’m a thief! .. You understand: maybe I’m a thief from evil … because I’m a thief, that no one has ever guessed to call me by another name … Call me … Natasha, well? // M. Gorky “At the Bottom” Act Three

It is also appropriate here to talk about the social role that parents predetermined for Ashes. Any role implies a number of behaviors of the subject, society expects certain actions from him. So Ash in the role of a thief had to match. However, it seems to me that in the case of the role of a thief, one should not say that society wants this subject to steal, but rather perceives this as a normal thing. He is a thief, which means he steals.

Let’s return to the personalities of Satin and Tick. In one of the episodes of the play, Satin had the following remark.

Satin. Many people get money easily, but few part with it easily… Work? Make it so that the work was pleasant to me – maybe I will work … yes! May be! When work is pleasure, life is good! When work is a duty, life is slavery! // M. Gorky “At the bottom” Act one

In this passage, Satin reminded me of a traditional person according to M. Weber, about whom he wrote in his work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” [4] This is a worker who considers his profession a burden, wants to minimize his work, because work for him is only a means to satisfy needs. The opponent of Satin in this case is the Tick. Throughout the play, he shows an ardent desire to work and, what is important, really works. He believes that work can bring him back to normal life. According to Weber, we can call Klesch a Protestant: his profession is a form of his existence, he lives to work.

Let us turn to the hero of the work, which has already been mentioned above, Luke. He tried to help the inhabitants of the rooming house, reassured them, gave advice. All these are obvious functions that the elder performed, according to the American sociologist R. Merton. [5] In his writings, he talks about explicit and latent functions. The consequences of explicit functions are planned and realized, while the consequences are not intended and are caused unintentionally. Thus, latent functions can be considered side effects of actions. Link This means that such functions of Luka are the murder of Kostylev by Ashes, because it was Luka who persuaded Ashes to run away with Natasha, which angered Vasilisa Karpovna (her sister), who wanted to use Ashes to free herself from her husband (Kostylev). Also, the latent function of Luke is the suicide of the Actor, which should be considered separately.

E. Durkheim identified four types of suicide: selfish, altruistic, anomic, fatalistic. [6] Actor’s suicide is selfish. Luca suggested to the Actor that he had a chance to rise from the bottom: go to a supposedly free hospital for alcoholics. The actor even began to save money for the trip, but after Luca left, he realized that he had no chance to start life anew. He hangs himself in connection with the loss of the meaning of life, which, in accordance with the typology of E. Durkheim, is an egoistic suicide.

Summing up, I would like to note that reading M. Gorky’s play “At the Bottom” for the second time turned out to be more interesting and informative for me. Knowledge of sociology helped me to better understand the meaning of the work and comprehend the author’s idea.


1. Kuzmina T.V. “Conflictology” // G. Simmel’s Theory of Social Conflict

2. Mead M. “Culture and World of Childhood” // Chapter 1. The Past: Postfigurative Cultures and Well Known Ancestors


4. Weber M. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”

5. Merton R.K. Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, 1957 (Translated by Yu. Aseev)

6. Durkheim E. “Suicide: A Sociological Study”

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