Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The events of young Zhenia’s life, both insubstantial and momentous, point to her development from a young girl to an adult woman. Largely this process takes her unawares: Continuous throbbing headaches and inexplicable effusions of blood beset her at the onset of sexual maturity. Transformation is also suggested, in quite another sense, by transportation beyond the Urals. Zhenia feels that she has reached a continental divide where much is similar, but the atmosphere seems changed somehow. The beginning of autumn seems more distinct than at other times she can recall. At one point she begins to use perfume; she becomes aware of physical differences between herself and boys her age.

Many transitions she grasps half-consciously and in passing: Her awareness of life’s deeper concerns mingles with poignant everyday impressions that are still deeply felt. Her father is a remote figure and offers little in the way of guidance or understanding. Some basic issues she realizes only imperfectly and intuitively. Her mother’s pregnancy, and the expectations and agonies of childbirth, are brought home to her only at a distance; only then does she understand that she, and other girls she knows, eventually will have babies of their own. During her discussions with Liza Defendova, she finds the other girl’s knowledge remarkable and is shocked at the easy vulgarity with which Liza discusses procreation. The tragic end of life is revealed to Zhenia in broken, circuitous statements from the family doctor and her teacher: They cannot hold back news of the family’s loss, or of the death of Dikikh’s friend. Zhenia is at an awkward age: She can comprehend the beginning and end of life, but she cannot still her screams and uncontrollable outbursts of tears. She seems peculiarly sensitive to sorrow and suffering. The drama of her approaching adulthood seems darker and more profound because her character is still forming; she remains childlike in some respects even as in other ways physical and emotional maturity overtakes her.