Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
Professor Marya Vladimirovna Kovaleva
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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 (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 hairdresser. His unusual personality is echoed in his somewhat wild appearance (he has a tuft of hair sticking up on his head), as well as in the seriousness he brings to his work. Unlike the authorities, who view hairdressing as a production-line activity, Vitaly views his job as a form of art and studies equipment, fashions, and heads with cool detachment. His attitudes lead to conflict with the authorities, who frown on his capricious treatment of clients and eventually force him to change occupations.
Galya, Marya’s inefficient secretary. Marya tolerates Galya’s unprofessional behavior because she has a soft spot for the attractive twenty-three-year-old and thinks of her almost as a daughter. Galya, with long, light-chestnut hair, blue eyes, a slim waist, and plump legs, is always immaculately dressed and cuts a striking appearance. She is so impressed by Marya’s new hairstyle that she asks for the name of the hairdresser. Marya is happy to oblige; Galya thus meets (and eventually falls in love with) Vitaly.
Kostya, Marya’s two sons. The twenty-two-year-old Kolya is a college senior, majoring in automation, whereas his younger brother, Kostya, a twenty-year-old sophomore, majors in computing. They live with their mother, adding to her stressful life by living, as Marya puts it, like pigs. They consume all the food in the refrigerator and create a mess but compensate with their humor and occasional thoughtful gestures.
Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Lebedev
Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Lebedev (VYA-cheh-slahv nih-koh-LA-yeh-vihch LEH-beh-dehv), Marya’s deputy director. This garrulous, effeminate older man (his last name is derived from “swan”) is unintentionally a hindrance to Marya’s work, as his infuriating manner and appearance cause everyone to refuse granting anything for which he asks.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341
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.”
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 32
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