Reading Gorky's "Мать", I came across this sentence:

Кабы не увидал я тебя - хоть назад в тюрьму иди!

(часть II глава 9-а)

Does this singular imperative in the main clause mean "шел бы"?


3 Answers 3


"I could just as well go back to prison."
He doesn't say he would definitely go back, but it would look to him like he had no other choice.

For instance,
"Хоть плачь" - you could just as well just cry (what else is there to do?).
"Хоть стой, хоть падай" - you could just as well fall to the ground in shock... or not. :)


Широко улыбаясь, Николай подошел к матери, схватил ее руку:

  • Кабы не увидал я тебя - хоть назад в тюрьму иди! Никого в городе не знаю, а в слободу идти - сейчас же схватят. Хожу и думаю - дурак! Зачем ушел? Вдруг вижу - Ниловна бежит! Я за тобой...

Источник: http://gorkiy-lit.ru/gorkiy/proza/mat/mat-2-9.htm

Seeing the wider context, it's clear that the meaning is the following:

If I hadn't noticed you, I wouldn't have known what to do... as if I'd be better off returning to prison or having stayed there in the first place.

(He was at a loss because he didn't know anybody there. And there's a false regret about returning to prison, showing his despair).


The imperative иди here isn't so far removed from the same (figurative) imperative that could be used in English in the same context:

With a wide smile on his face, Nikolai approached his mother and took her hand and said, "If I hadn’t seen you, I would've been like (if this is freedom,) just go back to jail (already)! I didn’t know anyone in town, and, had I set foot in the settlement, they would've captured me on the spot. So I kept walking and thinking to myself 'What a moron! Why would you leave?'”

Here the imperative "just go back to jail (already)" could be used figuratively in the sense I may as well have gone back to jail and expresses the same utter despair as the Russian construction of an imperative with хоть. By the same token, in the right context, one could say:

Сейчас здесь очень плохо, хоть уезжай в Северную Корею.

Things are horrible here at the moment — I'm like (if this is the way things are going,) just move to North Korea (already)! in the sense, I may as well move to North Korea!

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