Last Updated on January 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 936
The Townspeople of Vasenka
This group represents the “chorus” of the narrative—the “we” that undertakes collective action in Vasenka. Because Kaminsky utilizes the metaphor of performance throughout the narrative, he uses the townspeople of Vasenka in order to juxtapose the playacting techniques of theater with the events that unfold in the town during the insurgency.
It is within the townspeople that the reader can sense the most radical changes over the course of the story. The townspeople start off as meek, defenseless “puppets” who uniformly obey state authority. However, after the death of Petya, a transformation overtakes them as a whole, and they collectively defy military authority by adopting their own unique form of sign language. The townspeople are also the ones who primarily suffer as a result of this defiance. By the end of the story, they transition back to their traditionally passive role as obedient citizens of the country.
Alfonso is Sonya’s husband and a puppeteer. Upon the arrest and execution of his wife, Alfonso becomes increasingly distraught. He wanders the city almost in a madness over the grief of his loss. Eventually, the townspeople invite him to kill a drunken guard that they have captured, and he does so. When word of his crime reaches the other soldiers, they break into his home, arrest him, and take custody of his child, Anushka. He is hanged for the crime, and the town mourns the loss.
Sonya is Alfonso’s wife and the best puppeteer of the town. Throughout the narrative, she is described in romantic terms. Sonya is full of energy and of beautiful complexion. She smells “like bees” and lemon-drop shampoo, and has freckles so noticeable that they intrigue the entire town. For reasons left unclear, the soldiers come to Alfonso and Sonya’s home one night and throw her into a van. Shortly thereafter, she is publicly shot, just three days after giving birth to a son, Anushka.
Alfonso and Sonya’s daughter, Anushka is born just before her mother is executed. After her father is arrested, she is taken into custody by the soldiers of Vasenka. In act 2, Galya comes to rescue her, and she grows up under Galya’s care for a while. Anushka is described as an incredibly compassionate young girl who sympathizes with homeless dogs as much as she does with the beleaguered population of the town. She is a paragon of innocence and purity in an otherwise violent world.
Petya, Sonya’s cousin, is a young deaf boy. While visiting a puppet show one night, Petya does not notice the guards break up the assembly and order the crowd to disperse. He laughs at the puppets’ comedic recreation of the soldiers’ behavior. The soldiers, taking this as a sign of defiance, shoot and kill Petya. His death galvanizes the townspeople of Vasenka to assume deafness as a new collective identity in order to protest the outrageous act of violence, as well as to defy military authority at large in their country.
Momma Galya Armolinskaya
The protagonist of the second act and the owner of Vasenka’s theater, Galya presents herself to the soldiers as a woman willing to have sex in order to receive favors. However, she is in reality the organizer of an entire underground revolutionary movement. One day, while her puppeteers distract a group of guards, Galya sneaks past a military checkpoint and rescues Anushka by hiding her away in a pile of laundry. Over time, however, the townspeople become bitter with Galya: her revolution has caused the death of so many of Vasenka’s women. The townspeople ultimately capture her and cut her up behind the bakery. They then proceed to chase her through the streets, and she eventually dies. Galya is a symbol of inner strength and conviction in the narrative. She has no shame for her revolutionary activities and is willing to die for her cause.
The loyal revolutionaries of Galya’s insurrection, these female puppeteers play a key role in distracting the guardsmen so that Galya can rescue Anushka. They further carry out revolutionary activities by luring unsuspecting soldiers to the back of the theatre house and performing sexual services for them. When the soldiers let their guard down, the puppeteers strangle them to death and carry off their bodies. These actions lead to the implementation of martial law, and many of Galya’s revolutionaries are killed.
The soldiers are responsible for anchoring the authoritarian regime in Vasenka. They represent obedience and conformity to the principles of martial law. However, they are also portrayed as impulsive, sloppy, and—in many cases—stupid. For example, their murder of Petya and their abduction of Alfonso’s wife are seen by the townspeople (and implied to the reader) as pointless acts of brutality that serve to ultimately weaken military presence in the town. The soldiers are determined to protect a very specific form of public order that complies with the authority of their regime. Therefore, when the residents collectively engage in public deafness, they pass decrees arguing that deafness is a contagious disease that needs to be eradicated.
Although they serve as the narrative’s primary antagonists, Kaminsky humanizes the soldiers from time to time. When a soldier lets his guard down while with a beautiful female puppeteer, or when another begs for his life in front of a crowd of enraged residents, the reader is left with the sense that the soldiers, too, are caught up in a system much larger than themselves—one that forces their hand and makes them act in such a seemingly ruthless manner.