The Old Man

by Yuri Trifonov

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Characters Discussed

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Pavel Evgrafovich Letunov

Pavel Evgrafovich Letunov (PAH-vehl yehv-GRA-foh-vihch leh-TEW-nov), a retired man. Having played a part in the revolution, Pavel becomes an engineer after World War II and begins writing articles to justify the actions of Sergei Kirillovich Migulin, a revolutionary general. The political climate after the war makes rehabilitation possible. After the death of Pavel’s wife, Galya, the search for the true motivation of Migulin’s rebellion becomes Pavel’s only refuge from the painful disorder in his family and his children’s attempts to have him help them obtain a house through his connections.

Sergei Kirillovich Migulin

Sergei Kirillovich Migulin (sehr-GAY kih-RIH-loh-vihch mih-GEW-lihn), an army commander. Born a Cossack and possessing great rhetorical and tactical skills, he is uniquely capable of rousing and directing the fiercely independent Don Cossacks. Although he is a true revolutionary, his Cossack nationalism and sharp tongue make him suspect in the eyes of the Bolsheviks. His hot temper eventually leads him to an emotional rebellion that results in his trial and death sentence.

Anna Konstantinovna Igumnova

Anna Konstantinovna Igumnova (kon-stan-TIH-nohv-nah ih-GEWM-noh-vah), Migulin’s wife. The first wife of Vladimir, she married Migulin after Vladimir was butchered by Cossacks. Despite the revolution, Anna’s existence is not determined by ideology but by her fierce devotion to Migulin.

Vera Pavlovna

Vera Pavlovna (PAV-lov-nah), Pavel’s daughter. Vera believes that she has a better chance of keeping her lover, Nikolai Erastovich, if the family has more room, so she pressures her father to influence the process of obtaining better housing.

Polina Karlovna

Polina Karlovna (poh-LIH-nah KAHR-lov-nah), a school friend of Pavel’s wife. Polina is also Oleg Vasilevich Kandaurov’s mother-in-law, which makes Pavel reluctant to exercise his influence in obtaining a house for his children.

Nikolai Erastovich

Nikolai Erastovich (nih-koh-LAY eh-RAH-stoh-vihch), Vera’s lover. He combines a small quantity of piety, an argumentative nature, and an indifferent commitment to Vera, traits that make him a source of constant frustration in the Letunov household.

Ruslan Pavlovich Letunov

Ruslan Pavlovich Letunov (REWS-lan PAV-loh-vihch), Pavel’s son, who does not love his wife, has a woman on the side, and drinks too much, all of which add to the family’s frustrations.

Vladimir Sekachev

Vladimir Sekachev (seh-ka-CHOV), Anna’s first cousin and first husband; he is kind, brave, and unpredictable. Vladimir’s revolutionary activity is cut short when he is murdered by Cossacks.

Alexander Pimenovich Danilov

Alexander Pimenovich Danilov (PIH-meh-noh-vihch dah-NIH-lov), a man-at-arms in the 1905 revolution and Pavel’s uncle. Alexander is one of the few people to see past the moment of revolutionary fervor and perceive the inhumanity of revolutionary trials and the terror campaign against the Cossacks.

Oleg Vasilevich Kandaurov

Oleg Vasilevich Kandaurov (vah-SIH-lyeh-vihch kan-DAH-uh-rov), a government executive. His personal motto of pushing every person and situation as far as he can has resulted in a party position, a trip to Mexico, and a passionate young mistress. Kandaurov is vying for the same house that Ruslan wants.

The Characters

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For the most part, the characters in The Old Man are personifications of various shades of “truth,” that is truth as each one sees or perceives it. Thus Shura, Pavel’s uncle, is not blinded by Bolshevik ideology but searches for the ultimate truth of his conscience by refusing to participate in the kangaroo court deliberating Migulin’s fate. In contrast, Bychin, a minor character, lets revenge color his truth in his dealings with counterrevolutionaries. Kandaurov’s truth is pragmatism, self-aggrandizement, and unequivocal cynicism.Others, such as Volodya, have misconstrued ideology as the real truth, thus making the ends justify the means.

All forms of truth are rationalizations—a mental game. One form...

(This entire section contains 290 words.)

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of truth, however, is based on feelings and intuition. It is interesting to note that Yuri Trifonov, like Boris Pasternak before him inDoktor Zhivago (1957; Dr. Zhivago, 1958), imbues his female characters with a “female” intuition or sixth sense which transcends “male” logic and sees truth through the medium of feelings. After all that has happened, it is love that has sustained Asya and that is all that counts, no matter what the deductive reasoning regarding Migulin’s innocence or guilt may be. In another case, Asya’s mother, whose family has been all but decimated by the Revolution and the civil war, finds no comfort or solace in such “logical” platitudes for the cause of her distress as “historical necessity,” for they do not alleviate her pain and anguish. Her truth is the experience of bitterness and resentment. Thus truth is not to be found in documents or accounts, either actual or distorted, for these sources render only part of the total truth; not to include the feelings of all the participants leads to a perverted truth.


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Brown, Deming. Soviet Russian Literature Since Stalin, 1978.

Brown, Edward J. Russian Literature Since the Revolution, 1982.

Terras, Victor, ed. Handbook of Russian Literature, 1985.

Woll, Josephine. “Trifonov’s Starik: The Truth of the Past,” in Russian Literature Triquarterly. No. 19 (1986).




Critical Essays