Platonov’s Sokrovennyi chelovek and the Road to Chevengur

Keith Blasing, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Sokrovennyi chelovek, a povest’ written by Andrei Platonov in 1927 and published in 1928, has usually been positioned by scholars somewhere along Platonov’s path from faith to doubt in the post-Revolutionary system of the 1920s. The central character, Foma Pukhov, presumably the character to whom the title refers, has often been linked to the title character of Platonov’s purest satire, “Usomnivshiisia Makar,” the link being that both Foma and Makar enter the Soviet system from without, ready to believe in its beneficence, and the narration of both stories maintains an ironic distance that undermines the characters’ faith. The central characters, and the way in which they are narrated, have frequently been seen as autobiographical renderings of Platonov’s own progression from faith to doubt in the 1920s, with Sokrovennyi chelovek maintaining an ambiguity that Platonov no longer allows himself by the writing of “Usomnivshiisia Makar” in 1929.

In this paper I will present a close analysis of the system of characters in Sokrovennyi chelovek with the goal of demonstrating in a more nuanced way how the character of Foma Pukhov is constructed and of addressing more carefully the question of autobiography in the povest’. What I believe this close analysis of the narrative and the characters reveals is that Sokrovennyi chelovek is, in its very structure, too novelistic and too dialogic to be grouped with the relatively simple satirical short story “Usomnivshiisia Makar.” The character of Foma Pukhov is defined by a series of interactions with other characters (and a particularly important non-character: his dead wife), each of whom pushes him in some way, though not without much resistance, towards the feeling, described in the final section of the story, that he has “gone back from an unnecessary wife to the mother of his childhood.”

The implication that this analysis contains for Platonov’s overall development as a writer is that Sokrovennyi chelovek is best positioned not as a milepost on Platonov’s path from faith to doubt, but as a step on the road from short stories and comparatively simple povesti to the novel form, fully realized in Chevengur, which was written concurrently. As to the question of autobiography, by the writing of Sokrovennyi chelovek the construction of Platonov’s characters has become far too complex to allow us to speak of the characters themselves as “autobiographical.” One can more accurately speak of themes in the stories as autobiographical: for example, when Foma Pukhov interacts with Zvorychnyi on the question of whether to participate in the Civil War, and Zvorychnyi refuses because he has a family, it is safe to say based on what we know of Platonov’s own life in the 1920s, that we have an autobiographical theme, realized in the interaction of the two characters. Both Pukhov and Zvorychnyi are in part defined by just this dialogic interaction – neither is an autobiographical character, but both are defined in opposition around a question that was of particular importance both to Platonov’s work and his life in the 1920s.