Ron Paul Curriculum, English 1, Lesson 35
Write 500 words on this topic. “Describe Kourdakov’s use of contrasts to strengthen his narrative.” Examples: Sunday afternoon’s activities, or the meetings — public and private — where he got his award, or the leaders of the USSR vs. the leaders of the victims. Do you think these contrasts make his narrative more powerful?
Sergei Kourdakov’s autobiography, The Persecutor, is a strong narrative, not only because it has interesting facts, but also because Kourdakov uses contrasts to make them even more attention-grabbing and sometimes shocking. A few examples would be the Sunday that he and his special-operations team went to have a picnic before doing their dirty job, and the Communist convention where surprising opinions were voiced…
Contrasts are like outliers on a number line. Most of the data points are together in such a way to seem normal, then there’s one or a two points that are significantly different from the rest.
The outlier in this example is the dot far to the left. The origin, or the location of 0, is irrelevant. It surprises us to see something so far away from the main group, making the distance seem larger. This next example, though not a number line, highlights this a little better:
Believe it or not, the bar is a solid color. What changes is the contrast from the background. Our brains subconsciously amplify the apparent differences to make things more noticeable to our consciousness.
The way Kourdakov uses contrast matches, for the most part, with a number-line. One of his first big uses of it is in his description of the Sunday full of picnics, vodka, a baptism… and beatings. He doesn’t hide the fact that their job was to beat up Christians, but he does paint the day, at first, with a happy atmosphere. The picnics, vodka, and laughing suddenly turn into violence.
Next, Kourdakov tells about the convention where they celebrated Lenin’s 100th birthday. Kourdakov got an award for leading his youth league, he pledged to continue to do greater and greater things for Communism, and was personally congratulated by some of the high party members in the region. Orlov, one of the party members, had said, “Such young men as this are a perfect example of Communist youth and the future hope of the party in the USSR. We must support and help them develop, because, comrades, look at this man. In him and thousands like him you see the future of the party and our country.” They continued the party with a feast. Orlov invited Kourdakov to join the private dining room, only for the high party members. It was full of expensive food… and unconscious, drunk senior party officials. Quite a contrast to the regular banquet hall. Orlov, drinking more and more vodka, told him, “Communism is the worst curse that has ever come to man!” “Communism is (a description too foul to print).” In the space of five seconds, the reader’s set of events at the convention went from this:
Here was a party leader, in the best place to be in a Communist society, with all of the luxuries he could have, cursing the system! At a party (The celebratory kind) about the “successes” of the evil system!
Kourdakov’s use of contrasts is much more effective than the alternative, a simple, “We were sent to beat up Christians,” or, “Communism is bad,” chapter. They make the reader stop, blink, and re-read the line or page they were on. The reader is much more likely to take note of and remember what happened in the story to surprise them.