By Avery Comar
In Vasily Grossman’s novel Everything Flows, protagonist Ivan Grigoryevich embraces a linear conception of historical temporality. In this narrative of Russian history, Soviet autocracy represents nothing more than a temporary impediment to the inevitable triumph of human freedom, “In spite of the genius of Lenin… In spite of the limitless, cosmic violence of Stalin” (Grossman 199). In Ivan’s conception, a linear historical narrative propelled by human nature would eventually culminate in a free Russia. Freedom, Grossman claims, is inevitable — “It was coming to be because human beings were still human beings” (199). In Everything Flows, that freedom-seeking element of human nature is embodied by the archetypal Russian village.
Despite Grossman’s overarching embrace of linear history, the final chapter depicts the Russian village as a realm that lies outside of it. The village occupies a vague and inexact temporality — Ivan Grigoryevich’s childhood village was “eternal and immutable” (207). When the adult Ivan visits his childhood home, it seems to him that within the familiar houses “were sleeping the same children — children who had never grown up — and the same old men as forty years ago, still not gone to their graves” (207). In this temporally undefined space, Ivan is able to understand the way in which even the most terrible members of humanity aid and abet the eventual triumph of freedom.
Time in the village is cyclical; in approaching his childhood home, Ivan expects that his mother will emerge from the house and rest her “young and beautiful hands” on his “grey and balding head” (208). By excepting village temporality from the progressive expectations of linear history, Grossman assigns the Russian village a dual role in the historical narrative: it acts as both propulsor and survivor of progress. The village encompasses the elements of Russian identity which drive history forward, but also persists unchanging over the course of that tumultuous history. In this way, Everything Flows elevates the village to a special symbolic status within the zeitgeist of Russian identity.
Avery Comar is a senior majoring in History and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.