The Persistence of Fate in Vasily Grossman’s “Everything Flows”

By August Hagemann

Though Vasily Grossman holds that individuals are to be held accountable for their actions under Stalin’s regime, he contends in his novel Everything Flows that it is fate that ultimately determined who faced what set of circumstances and choices under Stalin.  In Grossman’s work, fate therefore determined who was to be a victim and who a persecutor.

Grossman develops the first part of his idea, the notion of individual guilt, while discussing Judas I, the first of four archetypes of people who denounced others to the government that he presents.  Grossman explains that this particular Judas issued a denunciation because he was tortured.  However, the only difference between this Judas and his neighbors who did not denounce anyone is that “[his neighbors] were not interrogated” (p. 59).  That this person is not essentially evil is further emphasized by the “sunken eyes of a martyr” that mark him (p. 58).  Despite this association with early heroes of Christendom celebrated for their meekness and submission, and by extension the limited attribution of these characteristics to Judas I, Grossman is clear about what makes this person a Judas rather than a saint: “he committed slander” (p. 59).

Thus, Grossman seems to argue that Judas I must be individually guilty, because no matter his circumstances it was still his individual decision that propagated the Stalinist system — despite the difficulties he faced and the fact that he would not otherwise have denounced anyone, he did in fact still utter denunciations.  However, it is important to recall that the only difference between Judas I and his neighbors is his arrest.  It follows, then, that anyone else in the same circumstances as Judas I would have made similar or the same decisions, and so would have been equally guilty.  According to Grossman, the reason it was Judas I in particular who bears the guilt is fate.  This is a notion he develops most extensively just after Anna Sergeyevna goes to the hospital, when she comments to Ivan Grigoryevich that “happiness doesn’t seem to be [their] fate in this world” (p. 146).  The role of fate in shaping individual experiences is further elaborated upon as Ivan Grigoryevich begins to analyze his life, “evaluating all that had befallen him” (p. 146).  What is of vital importance in this second passage is the passive voice — in Ivan Grigoryevich’s analysis, what is important is not what he did, but rather what happened to  him, things out of his control which nonetheless shaped his life.  Anna Sergeyevna’s comment has a similar interpretation, as she feels happiness eludes her and Ivan Grigoryevich simply because such is not their fate.  There is no reason to suppose that this notion of fate is not also applicable to each Judas and all of their victims.  Though each made individual choices, for better or worse, each was presented with those choices because of fate.

In this way, Vasily Grossman is able to maintain a moral system in which individual guilt and fate coexist.  Though Grossman argues that the people who cooperated with or were indifferent to Stalin are culpable for their actions, he simultaneously conveys that it was fate that placed them into the situations that led them to commit the heinous acts they did.

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