Peasant life is known to be one of the lowest status situations in many parts of the world during the past. Many people are not give equal opportunities compared to those that have a higher status in life. Most often, they are treated like they are not people but slaves due to the lifestyle as well as the work they have. Most of the time, peasants rely on those that has a higher status of living to get work. Thus peasants are one of those unfortunate people who are present in the world. In the book written by Olga Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia and David L.
Ransel, the life story of peasant life in Russia. In order to have an overview of the author’s desire to write this type of book, a short background of Olga Semyonova would be presented. Semyonova was born in the year 1863 into a very prominent and scientific family during those eras. The author was one of the daughters of Pytor Pertovich Semyonov who is a popular geographer, explorer and statistician. Through the explorations and attainments which were done by her father, he was acknowledged by the emperor and later added the name Tian-Shanskii.
Semyonova’s father played a huge role in the life of peasants because he “designed the legislation for the emancipation of the Russian peasants for serfdom, a reform implemented in years 1861-1863. Throughout Semynova’s life, she was living in St. Petersburg and was traveling with her family abroad. More often than not, she spent her summers in Gremiachka which is her family’s estate located in Riazan Province. The location of their estate would later on be used to study the life of peasants. With the inheritance of her father’s attitude in exploration, Semyonova was able to do her own explorations regarding peasantry.
(xix-xxi) Semyonova’s adult life was very tragic. Although she was very intelligent there was a point in her life that she shielded her self away from her social and intellectual life. She was offered by marriage by a young man who deeply fell in love with her. However, she declined the man. As a result, the young man decided to shot himself in the head and he eventually died. After such, she mostly spent her life living in their real estate which made her aware of the situations of the peasants around their area. (xix-xxi) During the nineteenth century Russian society was in crisis.
For several people, the development of the country was slow in comparison to other countries such as Germany, France, England and the United States. These countries were the ones who educated the Russians which brought pressure to the country. In contrast, Russia was very far from these countries bases on their urbanization and industrialization. In addition, these countries have a much higher level of culture and general education. On the other hand, change was very rapid and people blamed the government with its persistence to catch up with the Western world.
With the decision of the government, the Russian society was lead into a revolution. The Russians who were well educated were able to view the main sources of the said crisis. As these educated people said, the resolution of the rebellion depends on the actions and attitudes of the regular people such as the peasants who composed the eighty-five (85) percent of the Russian nation. Russian Peasants were the ones who dwell in the rural areas as well as those migrant workers or the industrial workers of the country in different parts of Russia.
Peasants were also the ones who constitute the Russian armed forces. Thus, this made all the parties in Russia believe that they know the diverse situation in the villages. Therefore in their perspective, the armed forces have the right to speak for the whole Russian peasantry and all their concerns. However, all their assumptions are not true. Hence, the government was not able to address the problems which are faced by the peasants. In the whole book, the study which was utilized was made by Semyonov with the collaboration with another researcher named K. V. Nikolaevskii during the late 1890s.
The study was done regarding the real situation of the peasants throughout those times in order to see the attitudes, aspirations and conditions of the peasants. In addition, the research regarding the lives of these people was regarding their customs, family life. However, there is a failed attempt to present the fluidity of peasantry life. During the time of Semyonova’s study of the peasantry life, she often noticed the she was similar to an outsider to the place. As evidence it was stated that, “She constituted her own identity as a person of Western scientific culture in opposition to the peasants she studied.
According to her, the boundary between childhood and adulthood, so clearly demarcated in education society, collapsed in village society. Peasant children saw the world very much as did the adults” (xxi). Semyonova highlighted that such situations were possible due to the early exposure of children in the difficulties that is normally faced by adults. In addition, the view of point of peasants regarding “work, morality and property were likewise quite different from the perspective of Semyonova’s upbringing” (xii).
Accordingly, there is a different treatment of women in the community in comparison to the treatment of women in the world known by Semyonova. In the book it is stated that, “…the treatment of women, whose lot as the brutalized work horses and chief preservers of social bonds in the family and community…” (xii). In the book, there are many social issues which were stressed by Semyonova. With all the studies observation and researches that she had done in the lives of Russian peasants, the author discovered many things that are very much different from her life while she was growing up.
In order to fully represent the life of the peasants, Olga was able to coordinate with one of the peasants in order to properly present the whole community of peasants in general. The person interviewed was named Ivan. Similar to other peasants, the family of Ivan was working on a farm in order to live. As a matter of fact Ivan’s family had, “livestock at the time of Ivan’s birth included three horses (one of which was a yearling), fifteen sheep, one cow, a heifer, and a pig. Their hut, which was wooden, had three windows and an enclosed entryway (sentsa).
Nearby were a workyard, a small granary, and a threshing barn. ” In addition they family had the most important necessity for them to live, “Farm tools included two wagons, two wooden, wheelless plows, one harrow, two types of harnesses, two scythes, two rolls of sackcloth (veret’ia), a sleigh, an ax, two spades, and two flails” (Semyonova, 1). Thus without their farming tools they are not able to see that there are not able to provide for all the things that they need. In the life of Ivan, it was very obvious that culture, norms and economic status was very important.
Through this, his upbringing and future is very much affected. In the third chapter which focuses on the issue of child birth. Semyonova highlights that a child if brought up in such type of environment could be affected while growing up. It was stated that, “their attitudes and behavior as conditioned by the promiscuous intimacy of peasant life” (22). She again states that children see things in a much matured way therefore she finds teenagers very promiscuous and sexual even in a young age.
The author also made some comparisons regarding the “our children, that is the child or the educated urbanized people” (22) against those that live a peasant life. In addition, Seymonova highlights the difference between the lives of peasants in contrast of the urbanized people. Stating that to peasants, “Deceit to escape punishment was approved, as was the use of foul language or abuse of animals to vent frustration. Patriarchal authority was accepted implicitly; might makes right, and in a sense this brutal fact of life justified deceit and other means of avoidance to escape the dictates of authority and power” (22).
With such lines, it is noticeable that the lives of well educated persons are very much different from those that live in peasantry whom have not experienced any education. In general, the life of peasants in Russia during the time of Seymonova does not have any type of opportunity to move forward from the difficulties that they are in. Only those that are privilege and rich are those that are given the right to be educated and move out from the situation they are in. In contrast, the situation of Russia in the current time is far more different from the past situation of peasants.
It is not a secret that there are still poor people in Russia but due to various technologies and improvements in terms of laws and policies there are opportunities available for those that wanted to change their lives. Great schools are available and scholarship grants are offered for students who would like to create a change in their lives. Accordingly there are organizations that are very willing to help and provide trainings and assistance with regards to various subjects such are welfare, health services and the likes. Through this, the less fortunate people are educated with regards to their health and sexual relations.
As stated by Seymonova, there are promiscuous actions which are made by young people thus; it could be assumed that early pregnancies and diseases are possibly taken a threat. In comparison to the current society of Russia, the awareness and education which are received by citizens protects them against possible sicknesses and threats that could lead to life threatening diseases. Thus, improvements of the benefits of the people have been done through out the years with the help of many changes in terms of government processes and activities.
However, problems with regards to society cannot be fully addressed due to the lack of ability of the government to fully reach out to the people. As stated in the introductory pages of the book, that problems could only be resolved through the cooperation and desire of the poor to respond with the issues due to the high percentage rate of their constituents.
Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, Olga and David L. Ransel. Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia. United States: Indiana University Press, 1993.
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