Reconciling the exotic "other" in Nikolai Gogol's Taras Bulba



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Around the mid-sixteenth century, the Ukrainian Cossacks arose out of the desire to create free and equal communities outside the control of the imperial powers of Russia and Poland. In the nineteenth century, the Cossack was brought to the forefront of cultural myth making in the search for identity during the historical periods of Nationalism and Romanticism. The Zaporozhian Cossacks were central in the conceptualization of the modern Ukrainian identity and development of national consciousness because they represent independence, fighting suppression, and the simple values of honor and love of nature. While Russian national identity relies on the direct lineage from Kyivan Rus' and on the idea of a Slavic brotherhood to justify their imperial actions, Ukrainian national identity is based on the distinct origins of Russians and Ukrainians. Nikolai Gogol's nineteenth century story, Taras Bulba, depicts the Cossacks through the medium of historical epic and addresses the anxiety with foreigners and identity. The theoretical framework of "Orientalism" sheds light on the relationships between the Cossacks and their neighboring nations of Russia, Poland, and Turkey and their liminal existence. The Cossacks of Taras Bulba exhibit contradictory thoughts and values that somehow coexist; the identities of exotic Cossack and nationalist Russian are reconciled. The representations of foreigners ("others") and women as well as the exotic eye are indicators of the tension in the Ukrainian Cossacks' imperial relationships. The twenty-first century films produced by Ukraine and Russia, demonstrate how both Ukrainian and Russian cultural myths can be extracted from the same text. Gogol showed how the Cossacks reconciled the exotic "other" in Taras Bulba, establishing identity based on contradictions in the geographical space of the borderlands.