Themes

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

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Our interpretation of Foundation Pit , as with much literature, is heavily dependent on the ideas to which we are predisposed to believe even before we read it. In some ways the novel appears a caricature of Soviet society, or a satire on communism, and it wasn't published in Russia until long after Klimentov's death. Even so, biographies of the author indicate that he was a communist, not a "heretical" disbeliever in the system. In spite of this Foundation Pit has been likened to dystopian novels such as Zamyatin's We and Orwell's 1984.

Klimentov's themes, even if not actually anti-communist, appear to express the hopelessness of a collectivist society in its formative stages. The action of his novel centers around a huge pit laborers are digging for the foundation of a building that will provide housing for the proletariat. The men involved in this project often speak and act in a bizarre way, as if recognizing that they are caught up in an absurd situation. A man named Voshchev has been made redundant (in other words, laid off) from his job in a factory and wanders about until he finds himself at the construction site and then joins the other laborers. The men, including Chiklin, Kosov, Safronov, and others, all seem to be resigned, just going through the motions (for which one can't blame them) but sarcastic and hostile, making cynical observations that sound subversive to the communist cause, but not openly so. The theme I infer from their behavior is that the average person is confined, trapped in situations he can't understand or control. The whole construction project makes an almost comical impression. We're told that the Union chief Pashkin has recruited a new group of laborers, but instead of skilled workers they are recluses from "the steppes," former desk workers, and farmers.

Pashkin seems a hypocrite and a fool. Despite the conditions of privation in which the workers live, we are told Pashkin lives in a house "made of bricks" so that "it will not burn down." One of the characters Voshchev has met on the way to his new job is a legless army veteran named Zhachev who gets about on a small cart. Zhachev comes to Pashkin's home to demand his benefits payment. The verbal exchange that occurs between them is either hilarious or pathetic, or both, and attests to the general theme of frustration and absurdity that runs through the story. Klimentov is probably commenting more on the general conditions of human life than he's critiquing the Soviet system, but it's difficult not to see the latter as the point of not just this episode, but of the story in general. As noted, our interpretation depends largely on the ideas we already have before we approach this novel. Perhaps the theme is the incompetence of bureaucrats everywhere.

Klimentov has been seen by some commentators as an existentialist. The bizarre world of Foundation Pit also anticipates absurdism. One of the characters is a bear that acts like a person and hunts down kulaks, the rich peasant class who were targeted as enemies by the Soviet regime. The novel is a huge fantasy, the message of which could be that both communism and the general human condition are both humorous and horrifying.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

The search for truth and an earthly paradise are well-worn themes in nineteenth century Russian literature, and The Foundation Pit owes something both to Nikolai Leskov’s eccentric folk geniuses and provincial settings and to Fyodor Dostoevski’s dreams (or nightmares) of the Golden Age. Still, there is an eerie, surreal quality to Platonov’s new world, a pervasive hopelessness and desolation that those two masters lack.

A grandiose project on the edge of a nameless provincial city in the heart of Russia, the foundation pit would seem to hold the promise of a Utopia—Dostoevski’s Crystal Palace, the workers’ paradise, a massive home for the masses. That is how Engineer Prushevsky sees it. Yet its projected dimensions keep expanding while its work crew keeps shrinking, and it seems unlikely ever to reverse its direction—to grow up instead of down. The Utopia is not only unfinished but also is in the process of becoming its own vertical opposite.

What makes the novel alternately dreamlike and nightmarish is the irony of theory versus practice but, more than that, the uncertainty of time and space. The city, village, and river are all unnamed, the landscape a lunar wasteland where, despite the presence of buildings and houses, the characters seem isolated and homeless in the middle of the windy steppe, sheltered only by their scanty clothing and occasionally by one another. Voshchev and the others follow Party directives and exhortations, but even while doing so they give the impression of random movement in space: either that, or they are moved by a mechanism so much larger than themselves that they have no idea of its workings. Cause and effect seem curiously out of joint, and there is a sense of discontinuity and alogic about the novel, even as Nastya pursues logic to an inevitable end with her assumption that from now on only the bourgeois will die—hence anyone who dies must be a class enemy.

Time passes, and Voshchev muses on its “longness,” but although there is some reference to the characters’ various past lives, they are all figures in an eternal present. Fall turns to winter, Nastya grows cold and dies, but there is little sense of linear movement—yet this is a novel about inevitable progress toward the future. Platonov’s language, the narrator’s and the characters’ language, has created a universe in limbo, where the characters operate according to mangled constructs, where perfect logic becomes no logic at all. What results from abstractions taken literally is the absurdity of the foundation pit.

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