Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Professor Marya Vladimirovna Kovaleva

Professor Marya Vladimirovna Kovaleva (vlah-dih-MIH-rov-nah koh-VAH-lyeh-vah), the director of a computer institute. A single, middle-aged woman with two sons, she is a sympathetic and competent professional who finds time to pursue her own mathematical research, to organize social and cultural events, and to run the household. An intellectual, she reads English novels for recreation. Her decision to do something about her appearance takes her to a hairdressing salon, where she makes the acquaintance of an unusual hairdresser whose nonconformist attitudes arouse her curiosity and bring her back for regular visits.

Vitaly Plavnikov

Vitaly Plavnikov (vih-TAH-lee PLAV-nih-kov), a trainee hairdresser. The twenty-year-old Vitaly stands out because of his unconventional appearance and ideas, and because of his individualism in a society that stresses conformity. Reared partly in a children’s home, he never finished high school as a consequence of his father’s alcoholism and his stepmother’s strong religious beliefs. He wants eventually, however, to go to college to study dialectical materialism. Toward this end, he has devised a rigorous plan for his own intellectual development. He is interested in Marya’s advice and suggestions, so he becomes her regular...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Marya Vladimirovna Kovaleva observes people, especially the young, from a nonjudgmental and deeply compassionate viewpoint. Though a representative of an establishment which prides itself on bringing up a socially responsible younger generation, Marya is putty in the hands of her bright, idle, impossibly spoiled sons: her “dear, dear fools.” They are accustomed to getting by on charm, and their mother does not seriously attempt to change them.

Instead of being subjected to heavy-handed criticism, the privileged boys’ weaknesses are highlighted by their contrast to young Vitaly, already self-supporting, whose harsh and shrunken life has killed much of his potential. A sensitive artist, his talents have become narrowly focused: His innate sense of visual beauty has been reduced to hairdressing; his intense feeling for music has been reduced to whistling.

Galya, the sweet but totally incompetent secretary whom Marya introduces to Vitaly, falls in love with him. Vitaly, however, has no response. Sexual neuroses and homosexuality are taboo topics in Soviet literature. Thus, Marya never speculates about Vitaly’s sexual makeup. She does deftly convey the sexually seething atmosphere of the beauty-salon milieu. Vitaly’s nonresponsiveness to Galya is put in the context of his nonrecognition of love in general: His life has been so emotionally starved, he does not know what love is. He only knows that marriage requires a decent apartment, something that neither he nor Galya has any chance of getting. In reply to Marya’s definition of love, he soberly concludes that he does not feel it for Galya.

Galya is not portrayed in depth, but she symbolizes the problems of many young, single Russian women: Though an attractive twenty-three-year-old, she already finds that Russian men prefer girls still younger; the boyfriend who had seemed perfect turns out to be a married man; and Vitaly, the first young man with a serious outlook on life, is only interested in her hair. Marya exclaims: “Oh you girls, you poor girls. The war’s long been over, another generation has grown up, and there are still too many of you.”


(Great Characters in Literature)

Friedberg, Maurice. Introduction to Russian Women: Two Stories, 1983.

Grekova, I. The Hotel Manager, 1983.

Library Journal. Review. CVIII (November 15, 1983), p. 2171.

Publishers Weekly. Review. CCXXIV (November 25, 1983), p. 58.

Virginia Quarterly Review. Review. LX (Summer, 1984), p. 97.