Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Alexander (Sasha) Dvanov

Alexander (Sasha) Dvanov (DVAH-nov), an orphan and Red Army soldier. Having been orphaned early and thrown out of his foster parents’ home, Sasha becomes a mendicant and later joins the Bolsheviks. As a beggar, he is a failure, because he is not brave enough to beg. He embraces Communism instinctively, at first because everyone else is joining the movement and it is frightening to be left alone again. Later, he learns more about Communism, but his understanding of it remains on a rudimentary level, as he seeks understanding among the simplest and best of people. the nebulousness of his political views is best exemplified by his participation in building, together with a number of similar souls, a city of Chevengur that corresponds to their idealistic notion of brotherly love and comradeship. In the end, he fades away into the foggy future of the city, without any assurance that it would ever work, let alone fulfill his dream of a better life for everyone.

Zakhar Pavlovich

Zakhar Pavlovich (zah-KHAR PAHV-loh-vihch), Sasha’s guardian, a railroad mechanic. A progenitor of Sasha’s dreamlike attitude toward life, Zakhar is also a dreamer but of a different kind. He is inordinately gifted as a practical man and a mechanic; he is able to make and fix almost anything. He makes things for others, never for himself, and he does so out of curiosity about what makes things what they are and how they work. He lives alone and never needs people, considering machines to be people, and is attracted to unusual projects such as building a wooden clock powered by Earth’s rotation. He is able to converse with anyone in a neighborly way. This combination of friendliness and aloofness draws him to the revolution; without subscribing to its political aims, he believes, again...

(The entire section is 785 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Andrei Platonov’s characters are not psychological studies—they are bodies plus consciousness. Both the body and the consciousness have an air of the grotesque about them, and some would seem monstrous (Pashintsev in his armor, for example, which is his only clothing) if it were not for the pensiveness and reflectiveness that nearly all the characters share.

That reflectiveness is most often a puzzled, all-pervasive melancholy. Zakhar Pavlovich the mechanic is sad and uneasy because he “cannot feel infinity” and because he cannot bear the thought that man is descended from worms, “a terrifying pipe with nothing inside.” Sasha, as a boy, feels anguished sympathy with any life at all, to the point of pitying the passerby who coughs in the yard at night. Throughout the novel, the one emotion the characters feel for one another is not so much love as pity. Even their lust is somehow regretful. This compassion is a generalized and impersonal one, though, extending to railroad locomotives and horses and grass. All are equally vulnerable. The stranger who cuddles up next to Sasha for the sake of warmth in the middle of the open steppe is one example; the monuments the Chevengurians build is another.

The other element of consciousness common to the characters is their singular language—a hodgepodge of misunderstood and misused ideological abstractions, current names, and jargon forcing their way into colloquial speech. “Lenin tooketh away and now Lenin giveth,” says an old peasant woman. As mangled syntax and ideological terminology come to describe not only politics but also the life of the soul and body, the characters’ language simply takes them over. Zakhar Pavlovich tells Sasha that he has to feel imperialism with his body. By the end of the novel, Sasha looks at his fellow citizens and sees “their pitiful naked bodies as the stuff of socialism.” Platonov’s characters witness the word made flesh with a vengeance.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bayley, John. Review of Collected Works, “Chevengur,” in The New York Review of Books. XXVI (May 3, 1979), p. 37.

Brodsky, Joseph. “Catastrophes in the Air,” in Less than One, 1985.

Brodsky, Joseph. Preface to The Foundation Pit, 1973.

Jordan, Marion. Andrei Platonov, 1973.

Olcott, Anthony. Foreword to Chevengur, 1978.