“Sud'ba cheloveka”: Andrei Sokolov’s Sexual Metamorphosis

Alexei Pavlenko, Colorado College

Andrei Sokolov, the hero of Mikhail Sholokhov’s widely anthologized “Sud'ba cheloveka” (1956), was conceived and popularly interpreted as a paradigm of a Soviet man, whose manliness and humanity (muzhestvo i chelovechnost') remain steadfast even in the face of his harrowing experience of World War II. A closer reading of this text, however, reveals a different story: an account of one man’s destiny in becoming his own opposite, a woman. Andrei’s identity rests on the juxtapositions typical for the Soviet war literature-- Soviet/German, hero/coward, man/woman--with their attended positive characteristics for the first member of the binaries (humane, selfless, tough) and negative for the second (inhuman, selfish, emotional). Thus, Andrei likens his German officer and bad soldiers to women, both are cowardly and “soft.” By the end of the story, however, Andrei displays those characteristics against which he defined himself earlier—he is easily given to tears, and his whole life is now centered around his adopted son. The “natural” (Barthes) narrative of Andrei’s life is further undermined by two instances of misidentification. First, Andrei tells the story of his life because he believes—incorrectly—that the narrator shares in his identity as a fellowtruck driver. The narrator’s misidentification at the beginning of the story is correlated at the end with the hero’s false identity as the orphan’s natural father.