Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Oleg Filimonovich Kostoglotov

Oleg Filimonovich Kostoglotov (fee-lee-MOH-roh-vihch ko-sto-GLOH-tov), a land surveyor. A loner, unmarried and without relatives, fiercely independent, and rebellious by nature, the thirty-four-year-old Kostoglotov is a former army sergeant and inmate from a Stalinist labor camp, arrested for making politically disparaging remarks about Joseph Stalin. Exiled to the remote central Asian town of Ush-Terek, he has been sent to a hospital in another unnamed central Asian city for treatment of stomach cancer. Skeptical of all authority, Kostoglotov clashes with his political opponent, the Stalinist bureaucrat and fellow cancer patient, Rusanov, who defends thought control and police state methods. In medical matters, he confronts Dr. Lyudmila Dontsova and insists on his right to know the exact details of his illness. When he discovers that the hormone injections he is being given may save his life but will result in the loss of his sexual capacity, he persuades Zoya, a nurse with whom he is sexually involved, to discontinue the treatments. Later, on the insistence of Dr. Vera Gangart, with whom he develops a close personal friendship, he resumes the treatment. His cancer is temporarily cured, and he is released from the hospital. Torn between his attraction for Zoya and for Vera, he ultimately ends his relationship with both women, thanking Zoya for their sexual intimacy, which he will always remember, and explaining to Vera that their relationship would be incomplete without the hope of sexual fulfillment. Amid rumors of a forthcoming amnesty for political exiles, Kostoglotov returns to Ush-Terek to live a life of simplicity similar to that of his fellow political exiles, Nikolay and Yelena Kadmin.

Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov

Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov (PAH-vehl nee-koh-LAH-yeh-vihch rew-SAH-nov), a prominent Communist Party bureaucrat. An arrogant, forty-five-year-old careerist and status seeker, Rusanov expects special privileges in the hospital as a result of his party affiliation. He is an authoritarian official who has risen through the bureaucratic ranks by denouncing his coworkers and cooperating with the secret police. His stay in the cancer ward is marked by numerous confrontations and arguments with the democratic Kostoglotov, whom he despises. Apprehensive about the future because of the uncertainty of his medical recovery and the political changes occasioned by the liberalization in Soviet society following the death of Stalin, he nevertheless clings to Stalinist principles. Responsible for the denunciation of innocent citizens during the purge years of 1937-1938, he dreads the reintegration of victims of the purges into Soviet society. Although confronted with death and the ultimate question of the meaning of life, Rusanov learns nothing from his stay in the cancer ward and leaves the ward psychologically unchanged.

Dr. Vera Kornilyevna Gangart

Dr. Vera Kornilyevna Gangart (kohr-NIH-lyehv-nah gahn-GAHRT), a radiotherapist. A small, shapely woman in her early thirties, she is shy, naturally kind, idealistic, and seemingly more innocent than a twenty-year-old. Having fallen in love with a schoolboy in her youth, she has remained faithful to his memory after he was killed during World War II. Determined to continue her life, she became a doctor and pledged herself to healing the afflicted. Inspired by the dedication of her mentor, Dr. Dontsova, she has been working as a resident doctor for eight years. When she meets Kostoglotov, she is personally attracted by his strength of character but finds herself in conflict with his insistence on questioning medical authority. A woman of deep inward convictions, she believes explicitly in the established methods of medical treatment. Dedicated to saving lives, she urges Kostoglotov to continue his hormone treatments, even though they will result in the loss of his sexual capacity. Attracted by Kostoglotov’s strength of character, she contemplates developing a relationship with him, but he refuses to sacrifice her personal happiness to his sexual inadequacy.

Dr. Lyudmila Afanasyevna Dontsova

Dr. Lyudmila Afanasyevna Dontsova (lyuhd-MIH-lah ah-fah-NAH-syehv-nah DOHN-tsoh-vah), the head of the radiotherapy department. A hardworking, conscientious, and dedicated doctor, she is nearly...

(The entire section is 1904 words.)

Cancer Ward The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The main character and protagonist is Kostoglotov. He is the only one in the novel to challenge societal norms. He argues with everyone, even the fe-male doctors whom he finds attractive. Having endured the cruelty of Soviet labor camps and the isolation of exile, he has toughened himself to the worst aspects of his native land, aspects his fellow patients and doctors scarcely recognize. An exception is Shulubin, another patient, who toward the end of the novel confesses that he has allowed himself to be cowed by the tyranny of the state. More than once he comes to Kostoglotov’s aid in arguments with the smug Rusanov, who thinks nothing of informing on colleagues who have not, in his view, measured up to the high ideals of the Soviet state.

Dr. Gangart is enormously attracted by Kostoglotov’s iconoclasm, even as she is puzzled by his seeming intractability. She comes to realize, however, that Kostoglotov is trying to remain his own man and to think and act and feel for himself. That is why he is horrified when he learns that the injections prescribed for him will take away his sexual drive. He does not want hormone treatments that will deprive him of the very desires that make him a man. Zoya, a sensitive and highly competent nurse, is won over by Kostoglotov and decides not to give him the injections. Kostoglotov is not, however, without his faults or without a certain foolishness, as when he believes that he can cure his cancer with a mandrake...

(The entire section is 474 words.)