UBC Theses and Dissertations
The life and extraordinary adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich : a commentary and explication Thomson, Sandra Mary
Vladimir Voinovich is the freshest satirical voice in Russian literature in the past fifty years. He has been called the new Gogol and his honest re-examination of his country's past has forced him into exile to West Germany. His novel, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, is a satire of the idiocy of Stalinist times. It shows a slice of society from its lowliest representative, Ivan Chonkin, to its highest, Joseph Stalin. The authorial intent is to show the natural man in unnatural circumstances. Chonkin is the norm in this satire. He is the honest, natural, real man that Voinovich has described in various interviews as his favourite literary type. Standing opposed to the conventional hero of socialist realism fiction, Chonkin is the end of a line of Voinovich's own kind of positive hero that began in his early stories. Chonkin is official idiocy's final undoing. The purpose of satire is to criticize targets that are not fictions, but representations of reality that are, or should be, obvious to the reader. In Chonkin Voinovich critically portrays various realia of the Stalin era, puncturing various myths and fictions. The novel's various characters represent mutilating aspects of the Stalinist regime in the 1930s and 1940s. The author successfully uses low burlesque to ridicule these satiric targets. Each of the chapters in the thesis identifies satirical targets and explicates them in the light of the appropriate historical, political, intellectual, or economic events. These realia may be immediately recognizable to the older, more astute Russian readers who have survived Stalin. They are not recognizable nor is their impact fully understood by the common reader either in the Soviet Union or in the West. Consequently, this fact alone justifies my attempt at a commentary and explication of Voinovich's masterful satirical portrayal of Stalinist Russia.
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