Characters Discussed


Voshchev (VOH-shchehv), a former machinist, now a laborer in the crew digging a foundation for a multiple housing unit in the Soviet Union in the early 1930’s. At the age of thirty, he lost his job because of a tendency to “stop and think.” Amid the changes in the Soviet Union designed to build the new society after the revolution, he feels the need to understand the “sense of the action” and the enduring meaning of life. He sees suffering everywhere, and his main quality is compassion. He strikes the death blow to the activist as punishment for the activist’s error in believing that he had a monopoly on truth. Voshchev, the truth-seeker, deserts his search when Nastya dies.


Prushevsky (prew-SHEHV-skee), an engineer and intellectual with an “excited” heart. He is only twenty-five years old, but he is “gray” because, as a scientist and rationalist, he regards the world as dead matter, a perception that limits and depresses his imaginative mind. It was his idea to build a great communal building, for which the foundation pit is being excavated by the powerful labor of the crew. The building will eliminate exactly those individual relationships in which the engineer is deficient, those that bind people together. He has the memory of a lost love, a glimpse of a woman whom he never saw again; it provides his only feelings. This man without love can build only the structure that will unmake humankind itself. His lack of feeling leaves him in despair, wishing for suicide.


Chiklin (CHIH-klihn), the brigade leader of the diggers. He is very strong, hardworking, and generous. An older man, he has a “small stony head,” thick with hair; he is a worker, not a thinker, and cannot...

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The Characters

In this Utopia-in-the-making, the hole in the ground which is to underlie a new society, the characters all share two things: an all-encompassing sadness and a strangely altered language. Whether it be Voshchev the truth seeker or Zhachev the malicious vigilante, or even Nastya the small girl (none has a full name), they all seem to operate in a daze, an expectation of death in the midst of life. They are unsurprised by the strangest of events—horses foraging collectively, bears belonging to trade unions—so violence and death are hardly anything new. Yet Andrei Platonov’s characters are not callous: Humans, animals, and objects seem to deserve pity and compassion in equal measure, since all three seem to be identically wasted, impoverished, and discarded. What is so disturbing in Platonov’s characters is that their very compassion seems as impersonal as their anger. It has nothing to do with specific people or traits.

The characters, then, are motivated by physical need, by ideological dictates, and by “what used to be called the soul.” Platonov is dealing with body and with consciousness, not realistic psychological motivation. Hence, the seeming aimlessness and randomness of their actions; there are Party directives which they fulfill, they are believers, but their melancholy puzzlement suggests that they are moving out of inertia rather than will.

The vocabulary of the revolutionary era has for them become a vocabulary of the spirit. Their language—common to all the characters as well as the author-narrator—is a complex mixture of cliches, slogans, revolutionary buzzwords, abstractions visited on concrete, and colloquial turns of phrase. Voshchev sees nothing absurd in his dismissal for “the growth of the strength of his weakness and of pensiveness in the midst of the general tempo of labor” but instead goes off to try to understand what has made him this way.A man about to make love to his wife speaks of her “gigantic feeling for the masses” and plans to “organize himself up close to her.” He is not self-conscious, not joking—nor, perhaps, is Platonov.


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.