Moscow Yankee, by Myra Page -- an essay

Annette Diamantopoulos

Social Protest Literature of the U.S., Spring 1998

Moscow Yankee vividly portrays the struggle of the American working class through the gradual enlightenment of Andy, a "refugee from Depression-era Detroit." Within this story of the developing forces and changing human and industrial associations at the Red Star automotive production plant, an irony arises; Andy finds freedom in a Communist state. It is within this fabric of political elucidation, that the threads of spiritual discovery surrounding human relationships are woven. Removed from the clutches of the arms of capitalistic inculcation, the characters of Moscow Yankee find peace and harmony. It is within this construction that Andy unconsciously grapples with the antagonistic conceptions of women's roles and the affirming universal stereotypes that repress them.

ALL AMERICA WITH ITS SOCKS UP! Peddling trick umbrellas, World Encyclopaedia, Waterbury's-Got-Something-On-Everybody, French in 20 Evenings, Soap and That Skin They Love to Touch, Fire Insurance, life insurance, disability insurance (5)." Capitalistic venom pumped full force in Andy's veins upon his arrival in Moscow -it's toxicity so self-righteously resolute- as he thought about his 'girl' Elsie. "She was a smart one, this girl. Always on the practical side of things. Always planning, urging him on. A guy needed a girl like that (7)." So unconscious were the tainted resignations to this capitalistic incited materialistic compulsion, that Andy could not see Elsie as a narcissistic woman that yearned for someone to relieve her of her current status. "Wasn't he going to night school mainly to please her? At the office, she tried "to pass him off as a bond salesman. She wanted him to take up the law (8)"; the law profession was avalued peg in the status quo, unlike his current position as an A-1 mechanic. Then she could "plan out each room's furnishings and he could dress her in seal and diamonds, the way a girl her style deserved (9)." The provocative lures of capitalism produced shallow ambitions. Consumption. Things. Buy more. Be more. Andy fell for it, or excused it. It really didn't matter because he was socially indoctrinated to believe that this was all right. "Elsie was smart. In some ways, though, not too smart. After all she was a girl (10)." Andy could not blame her for her biologically inferior traits. As long as he got to lie in the back seat with her, he could overlook this capitalistic constructed existence. Women didn't have to be smart; they just needed to be pretty ornaments. So what if they needed a little occasional 'material' polishing. Elsie ultimately showed her true colors; her response to Andy's request to come to Moscow read "THANKS KEEP THE CHANGE (274)."

Myra Page vehemently addresses her condemnation of the ideology directing feminine consciousness, and male for that matter, through her palpably empty characters. The whining, shrill-like characters of Mary Boardman and Edith Crampton extend her thought. Board and restless, these women curse the circumstances that have displaced them from their home of 'civilities and convenience' into the heathen-like rawness of Moscow. They believe that their powerful nation has endowed them with a superior existence and domain.

Page reveals that communism, in its allegiance to equality, has not succeeded in diluting the stereotypes of women. In Zena, Page diverges from common, socially accepted characterizations of prostitutes -that prostitution is a morally wrong action that is committed solely by women. She, instead, portrays Zena as a victim of the evil of men like Turin, Lebedev and Stepanov. When the Red Star laborers persecute Zena for her lack of commitment to her job and her immoral fiber, it is Natashia and Maxim that jointly defend her. "One of our workers selling her body? Shame on us all! When Zena came to us, she came for a new life. Has she found it? Oh you helped her a lot, you did! Those skunks who lured her, acting the same as White Guards. They're the real criminals! It's them I accuse before the whole shop! Such a man is a traitor, exploiting this woman (191)." It is of uncommon audacity and prudence to blame men for the plight inflicting women -prostitution would not exist without its demand- and it is unusual that men are ascribed as co-conspirators to the moralistic breakdown of our social fibers. Overall, prostitution is a by-product of a corrupted society as well as an extension of the materialistic consumerism motivated by capitalism; Zena prostitutes herself not out of the basic necessity for survival, but for western nylons, silk scarves and chocolate. "Before the shop I challenge you, Zena, to a socialist competition (192)." Natashia's challenge to Zena would unite her with the 'march' toward equality and a better life under socialism.

Natashia, in contrast to the other female characters, is uncharacteristically attractive AND strong - "too sure of herself (219)"-revealing a feeling of empowerment held by Soviet women unrealized by their American counterpart. In contrast to Elsie, Natashia "could stand on her own (251)." "No frills on her. Nails clipped short as mine. Streaks of grease when she's in the shop. Her damn work comes first." She didn't "doll up for Andy like Elsie would, meet him "with a smacker at the door. Cook [his] favorite dish. Act right (220)." Natashia did not conform to the gender restrictions socially imposed on her. "[Andy] marveled at the power in her grip. A girl had no business with so much strength. Not womanly (141)." Training to be an engineer and not a status housewife, Natashia rose intellectually above the other women. This is the trait that allows her to passionately throw herself into the creation of the socialist state; "with us, labor has become a thing of valor, heroism, honor (283)." She had exceeded the universal social limits compelling her suppression.

"All those fairy tales and promises they put over on the masses. Democracy! Square Deal!" (72) America is not for the people but for the oligarchy; it is not united but "each devil for himself, and devil take the hindmost (6)." America is about capitalism and profit, and it is through this medium that nations are infected with materialism -a materialism that impedes spiritual growth and social humanity. In contrast, the socialist movement in Moscow promotes unity, dignity and equality while in America, "those demanding liberty and justice are sentenced to exile (69)." An egalitarian society, unrestrained by the misguided cues of consumerism, can work if divorced from a calculated sexism. Only through the unity of both men and women can necessary social changes take place and humanity advance.

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