Before I started reading this I looked up some information about Gorky. I know it’s not always appropriate to do this sort of thing and I rarely do it with contemporary authors, but with the classics I think it’s different.
I knew Gorky was a prominent writer and as such a vital part of the Russian Revolution; he knew and was honored by Lenin. Beyond that, although I’d read about him before, I remembered nothing. So I refreshed my memory with a Wiki article and found out, among other things, that Gorky was a founder of “socialist realism” (glorifies the proletariat and their struggle) and then started reading the book – I don’t want to know more than the basics but I wanted to be aware of some major things.
This was kind of interesting and applies to The Mother:
In 1906, the Bolsheviks sent him on a fund-raising trip to the United States with Ivan Norodny. When visiting the Adirondack Mountains, Gorky wrote Мать (Mat’, The Mother), his notable novel of revolutionary conversion and struggle. His experiences in the United States —which included a scandal over his travelling with his lover (the actress Maria Andreyeva) rather than his wife—deepened his contempt for the “bourgeois soul” but also his admiration for the boldness of the American spirit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxim_Gorky
and that leads into:
Maxim Gorky’s novel Mother is usually considered to have been the first socialist realist novel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_realism
So – on with the book – the drunken brute of a father to the young man, Pavel Vlasov, dies and he is then left alone with his mother. After a time Pavel starts reading unlawful literature and becomes involves with a small group of revolutionaries. His mother fears for his safety. He brings his friends home and she likes them . Pavel goes to jail for passing out pamphlets and agitating at the factory. Mother gets involved in the organizing. She comes to love them all as their mother. The only thing she doesn’t like is they don’t believe in God.
And she learns how to read and about economic ideas.