The theme of the Great Patriotic War became for many years one of the main themes of the literature of the 20th century. There are many reasons for this. This is the awareness of the irreplaceable losses that the war has brought and the sharpness of moral conflicts that are possible only in an extreme situation (and the events of the war are exactly such events), and the fact that all truthful words about modernity have been banished from Soviet literature for a long time. The theme of war remained at times the only island of authenticity in the stream of far-fetched, false prose, where all conflicts, according to instructions “from above,” should reflect the struggle of the good with the best. But the truth about the war was not easy to get through, something prevented her from saying to the end.
Today it is clear that it is impossible to understand the events of those years, human characters, if we do not take into account the fact that 1941 was preceded by the terrible year 1929 – the year of the “great breakthrough” when the elimination of “kulaks as a class” was not noticed, the best in the peasantry – and, perhaps, the even more terrible 1937 year.
One of the first attempts to tell the truth about the war was V. Bykov’s novel The Sign of Woe. This story became a landmark in the work of the Belarusian writer. It was preceded by his works about the war: “Obelisk”, “Sotnikov”, “To live until dawn” and others. After “Badge of Trouble” the writer’s creativity finds a new breath, deepens into historicism, primarily in such works as “In the Fog”, “Oblava”.
In the center of the story “Badge of Trouble” – a man in the war. Not always a person goes to war, she sometimes comes to his house, as happened with two Belarusian old men, peasants Stepanida and Petroc Bogatko. The farm on which they live is occupied. In the estate are politsai, and behind them – and the fascists. They are not shown by B. Bykov cruel and brutal, they just come to a strange house and are located there as owners, following the idea of their Fuhrer, that anyone who is not an Aryan is not a man, his house can be completely ruined, and the inhabitants themselves at home – perceive as a working cattle. And so unexpectedly they are that Stepanida is not ready to obey them unconcernedly. Do not let yourself be humiliated – this is the source of the resistance of this elderly woman in such a dramatic situation. Stepanida is a strong character. Human dignity is the main thing that drives her actions. “For her difficult life, she still knew the truth and found out her human dignity by crumbs.” And one who once felt himself a man will never become cattle, “Bykov writes about his heroine. At the same time, the writer does not just paint this character for us, he reflects on the origins of his formation. Thinking about the meaning of the title of the story, you recall the lines from A. Twardowski’s poem written in 1945: “Before the war, as if a sign of trouble.” What was going on before the war in the village became that “sign of trouble” spoken of Bykov. will never become cattle, “writes V. Bykov about his heroine, while the writer not only draws us this character, he...
Stepanida Bogatko, who “six years, not feeling sorry for herself, tore herself up in farm laborers”, believed in a new life, one of the first enrolled in the collective farm – it’s no wonder she is called a rural activist. But soon she realized that there was not the truth she was looking for and waiting in this new life. Fearing suspicion of indulging the class enemy, it is she, Stepanida, who throws out angry words to a stranger in a black leather jacket: “Do not you need justice? You clever people, do not you see what’s going on?” More than once Stepanida attempts to intervene in the course of the case, to intercede for the arrested person on the false denunciation of Levon, to send Petrok to Minsk with a petition to the chairman of the CEC himself. And every time her resistance lies untruths on a blank wall. Unable to change the situation alone, Stepanida finds an opportunity to save herself, his inner sense of justice, to move away from what is happening around: “Do what you want, but without me.” It was in the pre-war years that the source of the formation of Stepanida’s character should be sought, and not that she was a collective farm activist, but that she managed not to succumb to the general ecstasy of deceit, empty words about a new life, managed not to succumb to fear, managed to preserve herself the human being. And during the war years it determined her behavior. At the end of the story, Stepanida perishes, but dies, not resigning to fate, but resisting it to the last. One of the critics remarked ironically that “the damage inflicted by Stepanida on the army of the enemy was great.” Yes, the visible material damage is not great. But another thing is infinitely important: Stepanida proves with her death that she is a man, and not a working cattle that can be reproached, to force to obey. In resisting violence, the strength of the heroine’s character manifests, which seems to disprove death, shows the reader how much a person can do, even if he is alone, even if he is in a desperate situation.
Next to Stepanida, Petroc is shown as a character, if not contrary to it, then, in any case, quite different – not active, but rather timid and peaceful, ready for compromise.
Petroc’s endless patience is based on a deep conviction that one can talk with people with good. And only at the end of the story this peaceful man, having exhausted all his reserve of patience, is resolved to protest, open rebuff.