The Foundation Pit

by Andrei Platonovich Klimentov

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 543

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.

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