Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Old Man, Trifonov elaborates on the general theme of his earlier works, in which his characters reflect the gradual loss of idealism in modern Soviet society. Included in this group are Dom na naberezhnoi (1976; The House on the Embankment, 1983), Utolenie zhazhdy (1963; the quenching of thirst), and his trilogy: Obmen (1969; The Exchange, 1973), Prevaritalnye itogi (1970; Taking Stock, 1978), and Dolgoe proshchanie (1971; The Long Goodbye, 1978). What was once a revolutionary, vibrant world has gradually acquiesced to the bromides of conformity, self-satisfied commonness, and vulgar banality. A full belly does not a revolutionary make, or, as the German playwright Bertolt Brecht has said, “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral” (first gobble up your food and then talk about ethics). The hunger for change and improvement has turned into selfishness and complacency. Trifonov’s theme is not unlike Anton Chekhov’s portrayal of the emptiness and dullness in Russian society of the 1890’s.

Trifonov’s stream-of-consciousness technique is a seemingly disjointed sequence of images, reflections, and ideas linked together through association with similar reflections and images, triggered by the five senses. In other words, the “smell” or “feel” of an object may conjure up a similar smell or feel from one’s past experience. This style has been used since the turn of the century by such writers as Proust, Henry James, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner, not to mention Leo Tolstoy’s so-called interior monologue technique.