Characters Discussed

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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...

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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 instinctively, that it may do some good.

Stepan Kopenkin

Stepan Kopenkin (steh-PAHN koh-PEHN-kihn), a dedicated revolutionary with some of the strangest notions about Communism. He wants to build a family army to fight the enemies of the poor and common people. He has an obsession with a German revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, and carries her picture sewn into his cap. He uses her as a yardstick for measuring a good revolutionary. With his horse, named Proletarian Strength, he resembles Don Quixote more than a fiery Bolshevik. He believes that people would set things right by themselves if they were left in peace and that Rosa, as a symbol of revolution, had thought up everything in advance. Like Sasha and, to some degree, Zakhar, he is vague about the real goals of the revolution. He trusts his instincts, believing that within himself he has the gift of revolution. That, however, is only a mask for his desire to live totally free.

Prokofy (Proshka) Dvanov

Prokofy (Proshka) Dvanov (proh-KOH-fee), Sasha’s foster brother. A revolutionary of a different kind, Proshka is using the revolution for his own ends. Practical and at times cruelly selfish, he operates almost exclusively on the basis of “what’s in it for me.” Even though he has worked for many people, he is loved by no one. He has acquired a good knowledge of Marx, but his use of Marx depends, for example, on his girlfriend’s mood and the objective circumstances. By and large, he is a predator who needs no people and collects property in place of people; he loves no one beyond his own door. the only reason he has survived so far is because he is able to manipulate his comrades and because of the uncertainties of the revolution.

Chepurny

Chepurny (sheh-PUR-nee), called the Jap, a revolutionary and president of Chevengur. Another blind believer in revolution, the Jap calls himself “a naked communist” who has not read a line of Marx but has picked up an idea or two at meetings and now spends his life fighting for it. Because most of the characters are not persons but embodiments of ideas, the Jap and others should be seen as spokespeople of the times, despite their individual idiosyncrasies.

Sonya Mandrova

Sonya Mandrova (MAHN-droh-vah), Sasha’s childhood friend. Abandoned by her mother at birth, Sonya is caught in the maelstrom of the revolution and becomes one of the millions of simple people who are forced by circumstances to participate in it. Her juvenile love for Sasha disappears in the vagaries of the revolution. She later becomes a cleaner at a factory. She has difficulties in sustaining her attachment to men and refuses to have children, in the belief that if she could have a flower instead of a child, she then would be a mother, thus revealing a poetic nature that the revolution’s harshness has arrested forever.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 319

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.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 43

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.

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