Saturday, September 10, 2011

Boy Meets Tractor

"And we'll sing new songs of the new life."

Socialist Realism literary conventions are often derided. Typically, Soviet literary cliches involve masculine heroism, technological progress, capitalist vilification, and reaffirmation of the collective or socialist political project. Boy meets tractor. Boy falls in love with tractor. Soviet films often followed suit. Alexander Dovzhenko's powerful and influential 1930 film, Earth, is a case in point. This silent black and white film revolves around the introduction of a tractor to a small peasant farming town.

When the film opens, the steppe peasants are laboriously bringing in their wheat harvest. The people are poor, although the scene isn't portrayed without charm. Wheat waves beautifully in the wind, sun pours down from above, sunflowers rise up toward the sky, and apples weigh down the nearby trees. The peasants are dignified. The men have beards, their printed idiom is intelligent.

Soon, the local chairmen of the farm soviet has helped to secure a tractor for the people. This tractor is a revolutionary force in the village, which had been employing animals and scythes which had probably been in use for centuries. The tractor is the very symbol of the new socialist order. It's modern, efficient, and purchased for the benefit of the whole town, as opposed to any single individual. The people recognize the tractor's power. They gather around it, examine its part, and laugh in joy and wonderment.

Soon, one man, Basil, takes the tractor out for a spin. It's efficiency is immediately apparent, impossible to underestimate. The whole town floods out to pursue the tractor and its soon apparent that this technological breakthrough will drastically reduce the work of the peasants. Unfortunately, Simon plows over a rich farmer's fence, symbol of capitalist greed. The rich farmer, enraged by the offense and probably aware that the tractor symbolizes his own weakness in a socialist order that the tractor represents, kills Simon.

The film concludes with the funeral of Basil, who has become a martyr to socialist progress. Basil's old father, Simon, appalled by the old order that has killed his son, leads a massive demonstration in memory of his son, and by extension Soviet collective farming. The women are in white, sign of the purity that stems from the people's collective willpower and concerted action. Simon even makes a point of excluding the town priest from participating in the event. The priest, a self-evidently evil figure of superstition who presides in a temple of gold, impotently calls down a curse on the village. The murderer goes insane, obviously driven to desperation by his untenable place in the new world that was ushered in by the arrival of the communist tractor.


  1. Thank you for this summary, I enjoyed learning about this film. Very interesting.

  2. You're welcome....Thanks for commenting.