Characters

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 363

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Voshchev is the main character in the story. He is a machine worker who sits around thinking about the meaning of life.

Safronov is arguably the most politically active of the workers trying to reach the pit. He is a socialist who “parrots official slogans.” Interestingly, however, he is also critical of others and, to a certain extent, of Soviet ideology. For example, he criticizes workers for putting too much effort into the project.

Prushevsky is an engineer and a supervisor. He represents a member of the intelligentsia, a common character in Russian literature of the time. While he is initially distrusted by the rest of the characters, he is eventually welcomed because of his skills and his ability to enlighten the masses with his knowledge. He attempts suicide at one point in the novel.

Lev Il’ich Pashki is the chairman of the trade union and a government official with a lot of special privileges. He is most often observed complaining about the group's work. Like Prushevsky, he represents a stock character in the Russian novels of the era.

Kozlov is murdered in the collective village along with Safronov. He is portrayed by Platonov as a sexual pervert who “caresses himself at night under the blanket and then has insufficient strength to work during the day.”

Nastya is portrayed as an ideal communist child. She forgets her wealthy mother and is often seen repeating party slogans. Platonov says she has “come to love the Soviet government, and now collects objects for recycling.” The money obtained from recycling activities, explains Thomas Seifrid in his companion to The Foundation Pit, was used to buy tractors. She dies at the end of the novel.

The activist is an overeager party worker who is sent to oversee the project's political activities. He is often seen reading instructions form the party and obsessively complying with every government order.

Bear is an anthropomorphic bear who goes through the village killing its inhabitants.

A more in-depth analysis of the characters in the novel, including etymological analysis and comparisons to characters in other Platonov stories, can be found in A Companion to Andrei Platonov's The Foundation Pit by Thomas Seifrid.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 772

Voshchev

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

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

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 express in words what he feels. Devoted to the revolution, he too has encountered the one woman for him and lost her. Unlike the engineer, he goes in search of her and finds her dying, cared for only by a young child, her daughter, Nastya. He takes Nastya under his protection as his hope for the future. When the girl dies in spite of his efforts, he digs her grave deep enough to allow her never to be troubled by the earth. Chiklin is a sledgehammer in his strength, the emblem of the proletarian defender of the revolution, but he too is left without faith at the end of the novel. He continues digging as the only way to bear his despair.

Zhachev

Zhachev (ZHAH-chehv), a legless man, wounded in the “capitalist” World War I. Intelligent and caustic, Zhachev, with “brown, narrow eyes,” is verbally aggressive and hostile. He suffers from the “greed of the deprived,” extracting food and services from everyone, exploiting their guilt at his disability. He forgets his own needs in his devotion to the girl Nastya, whom he tries tenderly to protect as what will live and thrive when he dies.

Nastya

Nastya, a young orphan girl adopted by the digging crew. She is the daughter of the beautiful bourgeois woman whom both Prushevsky and Chiklin have loved from afar, having seen her in her youth and never forgotten her. She is all the beauty of the old regime that they have missed and that the revolution lets die. Nastya represents for all the men the claims of the future for which they labor and suffer, an ideal Communist state envisioned but, as yet, far from achieved. Her presence atkolkhoz (collective farm) in the process of being established gives them hope and their labor meaning. She is pitiless in her commitment to the revolution, scolding backsliders and excoriating bourgeois remnants for their behavior. Her death is symbolic of their loss of hope, and it is a counterpoint to the establishment of the collective farm at the cost of the pain and death of the kulaks.

The activist

The activist, a man who is so much the Party official that he gets no name. He has been sent to liquidate the landowning peasants and establish the kolkhoz. He follows government directives to the letter, ignoring his own feelings and ideas. In his zeal, he even goes beyond the requirements in his callous devotion to the Party’s aims. When the Party deserts him, sending an order canceling all he has achieved and calling him a class enemy as he has called others, his disillusionment is complete. He takes his coat from the feverish Nastya, signaling his alienation from the dream. Chiklin strikes him as a traitor to the revolution, and Voshchev finishes him off for his having sucked all meaning in life into his own commitment.

The Characters

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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.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 6, 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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