Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 31–33 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 31: The Pugachev Tower

Instead of returning to her former cell at the Butyrki prison, Genia Ginzburg is sent to Pugachev Tower to await deportation. She is placed in an overcrowded cell housing peasants and working-class women. Most are foreigners charged with lesser offenses, such as talking too much. She is somewhat of a novelty as the only one with a 10-year sentence, and some cellmates think she must be of high rank. Aware of their class and party distinction, Genia is ashamed the Communist Party has inflicted harm on these people, and she feels more like an anvil rather than the hammer of the Communist Party symbol.

During her two-week stay, she listens to her cellmates' stories. Anna Zhilinskaya tells of Eugenia Podolskaya who tried to kill herself. Eugenia, a devout Party member, agreed to "take on a difficult and dangerous task for the Party." Her mission required her to "sign a number of statements about the subversive doings of a certain counterrevolutionary group." Eugenia willingly signed statements attesting to things she did not know. She did so for patriotic reasons, believing the accused guilty if the authorities said they were. Despite no personal knowledge of their wrongdoings, she agreed to be a witness because her testimony would protect society. After signing statements that led to the deaths of more than 25 individuals, a soldier told her she would be shot. Feeling remorse, she slit her wrists but was saved after her cellmate "woke up to a faint sound like that of dripping water." When she returned to her cell, her cellmate promised that if she survived, she would find Eugenia's daughter and tell her about her mother's last days.

Chapter 32: The Stolypin Coach

Two weeks after arriving at the Pugachev Tower, Genia is transferred to the Yaroslavl prison. Traveling by train and watching the world from the window, she is struck by "the fascinating ordinary human life we had not seen for so long." However, she feels "ready to die of envy and amazement" when she sees a woman holding the hands of her two sons. Outside Moscow she observes street banners filled with propaganda and mentions of sabotage.

The train arrives at its destination at sunset. No vehicle is there to meet it, and the prisoners sit under the open sky for 10 minutes before an open truck transports them to the prison. The prisoners view the Volga River and townspeople, and breathe in the fresh air and scents. When they arrive at the prison, Genia is placed in an isolation block where she is "buried alive for a little more than two years."

Chapter 33: Five Steps by Three

Genia's life in solitary confinement is reduced to limited stimuli. Her cell is "five paces by three paces," and a heavy screen over the window keeps the space in perpetual twilight. It is bare of objects, such as books or paper. Her only human contacts are with the prison staff, who communicate with her using short commands.

Genia is allowed out of the cell three times a day: twice for the washroom and once for a 15-minute walk in the exercise yard. Her 15-minute walk is "the focal point of the day," which Genia uses to observe life outside her cell. She tries to create a routine to occupy her day, such as exercising in the morning, but she's stymied by the warder who informs her about each activity "that's forbidden." A library offers the option of two books every 10 days, but the service is currently unavailable. The only thing left to do is recite and create poetry. "Cut off from all outside impressions," Genia recites poems from memory and writes "verses of [her] own, with ... meager results."

Analysis

These chapters reveal Genia Ginzburg's transition from awaiting her fate as an accused person to serving her sentence as a convicted person. In the transitional cell at the Pugachev Tower, Genia meets a greater cross-section of people affected by Joseph Stalin's purges and feels personally responsible for the Communist Party's actions against the working class. She refers to the hammer-and-sickle symbol of the Soviet Union and considers herself as "the anvil not the hammer," for she is an intellectual and feels acted upon rather than a laborer performing the action of the hammer. The hammer, representing industry, and the sickle, representing agriculture, were meant to be equal, but Genia feels shame because it is the industrial workers who are conducting the interrogations, trials, executions, and imprisonments against innocent people, including peasants.

Chapter 31 focuses on the theme of remembrance and shows again how prisoners promise to pass information to the families and relatives of a deceased prisoner. That cellmate who has made the promise, Anna Zhilinskaya, later tells Genia she doubts she will be able to carry out that promise, and Genia memorizes her relative's name and address to pass on the information if she is able. It is in this way that many families, relatives, and friends learned the fates of their loved ones and what their last days were like.

In Chapter 31 the author continues the technique of using an event, person, or situation as a springboard to include information about the external world she learns about later on. For example, Genia meets an older woman in the Pugachev Tower who reminds her of her mother. After describing the woman, Genia interjects information about her parents. Unknown to her at the time, both were arrested, held for two months, and freed. Her father died a short time later; her mother soon became ill and later died.

In Chapter 32 the author describes her last sensory images of the outside world before she is placed in solitary confinement. They are images of ordinary things people take for granted. In earlier chapters, she notes the importance of having a window—or a crack in one—to give a glimmer of sunlight or bit of fresh air. Now she gets full exposure to both, but soon they will be taken away from her completely.

Solitary confinement is bleak, especially for someone with a mind as active as Genia's. Having nothing to do, Genia seeks to structure her days. She is grateful for every opportunity to obtain information about life outside her cell, one of which is walking through the corridor to the washroom. Although she has little control over her life, she takes advantage of what control she does have. She walks slowly to the washroom to gain more time outside and observe the surroundings. She refuses to succumb to the emptiness of her environment, and stimulates her mind through poetry and by fantasizing about what she has seen or heard.

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