Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Despite its humorous tone, Ladies’ Hairdresser has a basically pessimistic message: The individual is prevented from achieving self-realization in Russian society. Moreover, since Grekova’s individualists strive for perfection through socially desirable channels—original achievement in higher mathematics; making people look and feel better than they had dreamed possible—the loss is much greater for society than for the frustrated innovators. Both Marya and Vitaly refuse to become bitter (though Vitaly breaks down and weeps silently). Yet one wonders how long they can go on striving to do their best, with no encouragement or reward.

A secondary theme is conveyed by details that casually hint that the society is unhealthy or even decadent. Every detail of personal life indicates that families are in great disarray. While at work, Marya is handed an “urgent” official document which she tosses aside as routine: “On being brought to the police station Citizen Popov [an employee of the Institute of Computers] relieved himself against the wall and the surrounding area....” When they are at home, Marya’s sons, both bright college students (the future elite), are always in their underwear, wipe the table with their clothes, leave beerbottles everywhere. The Komsomol organizes a young people’s party at the Institute, and a near riot ensues from a foolish party game. When Marya attempts to set a good example by organizing a clever party around sophisticated computer gadgets, it is accepted lackadaisically, without interest or enjoyment. In Grekova’s society, people are not happy and apparently do not know how to be.