Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Journey into the Whirlwind Study Guide." Course Hero. 11 Dec. 2017. Web. 21 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Journey-into-the-Whirlwind/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2017, December 11). Journey into the Whirlwind Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Journey-into-the-Whirlwind/

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Journey into the Whirlwind Study Guide." December 11, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Journey-into-the-Whirlwind/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Journey into the Whirlwind Study Guide," December 11, 2017, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Journey-into-the-Whirlwind/.

Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 34–36 | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Chapter 34: Major Weinstock's Twenty-Two Commandments

With nothing else in her cell, Genia Ginzburg repeatedly reads the 22 rules posted on her wall. "The opus," authorized by a Major Weinstock, spells out what "prisoners are allowed" to do—receive packages, borrow library books, and exercise—and what they are not allowed to do—sing, tap, talk, go near the window, or sit with their backs to the door; the "list of prohibitions ... compiled with great thoroughness and attention to detail." Violations will result in a loss of privileges, being sent to the punishment cell, or even receive a new trial. Genia and the other solitary confinement prisoners embrace these rules with the hope "that things should 'get no worse.'"

One day a new prison governor visits Genia in her cell. He asks if she has any questions or concerns, and promises to get the library open soon. She is impressed with him as a decent person doing an unenviable job. Less than a week later, however, he is gone, and a new prison governor visits her. He answers her one question harshly, and she doesn't ask another as she realizes, "What was there to ask? Everything was clear."

New arrivals result in solitary-confinement prisoners getting cellmates. Genia's new cellmate is Julia Karepova, whom Genia has met twice before when being moved between prisons. Genia is surprised, thinking such coincidences don't "happen in real life."

Chapter 35: Bright Nights and Dark Days

Genia and Julia spend their first few days together talking. Julia shares her and her relatives' life histories, and Genia recites poetry aloud. One day an order form for library books is slipped through their flap windows. The arrival of the books changes their lives and marks "the end of our loneliness." They now become consumed with reading. Genia notes that she reads with new depth. Stripped of external concerns or involvement in ordinary life, she gains an understanding that eluded her in the past and brings her a sense of "spiritual serenity." Reflecting on this time from the passage of years, she believes this deep reading ennobled her and made her a "kinder, more intelligent and perceptive" person than ever before, or since.

Because the cell, lacking natural light, is dark during the daytime, Genia and Julia quickly experience eyestrain from reading. They devise a system to turn "day into night and vice versa." At night the electric light is left on, which is perfect for reading. On days when they have a lenient warder, like Yaroslavsky or one of several others, they sit with a book during the daytime to give the appearance of reading, but they are actually sleeping sitting up. At night they hide in their beds as if they were sleeping; that's when they read. They cannot do this when "the Nabob," the block warder, or any other nasty warder is on duty because they will be called out for breaking regulations.

Another new arrival is in the form of a prison uniform. Genia must forfeit her personal clothing and wear prison clothes, known as the "Yezhov uniform." It's made of stiff material and designed with a pattern to show she is a prisoner. No bras are allowed, although she manages to keep one and hide it. This new clothing creates a slovenly appearance and demoralizes her.

Chapter 36: Captain Glan's Dog

Despite the prison system's intent to isolate prisoners from the outside world and from one another, Genia finds ways to circumvent this isolation. The doubling up of prisoners in cells, of course, means Genia is no longer in total solitary confinement. In addition, prisoners are allowed to write to close family members and purchase a local newspaper. These privileges give them a way to communicate with the outside world and pass information.

To avoid "attracting the vigilance of the prison censor," Genia develops a written Aesopian (or coded) language to communicate with her mother. An Aesopian language uses double-talk, allegories, and fables to express forbidden topics. For example, Genia invents a child, Eva, who is actually she. She asks questions about Eva's well-being to communicate information about her own life, such as having a cellmate and is not alone. Her mother, in turn, uses coded language to pass on information about Genia's husband and children, and relatives who have been arrested.

The Northern Worker, a local newspaper, provides information about local politics, which can be used to deduce information about the national situation. It is filled with stories about "rooting out 'enemies of the people'" as well as a comment by a local committee secretary lamenting that there is no one left to arrest. Obviously the purges are widespread and not abating. Additionally, they are continuing to target ruling members of society, as illustrated by the arrest of a former political candidate who received extensive coverage during the election. From this newspaper Genia deduces that "whole layers of society were being eliminated."

Genia and Julia also manage to communicate with prisoners in adjacent cells. One prisoner informs them she wants nothing to do with Communists. The other, Olga Orlovskaya, becomes a good friend. A journalist and loyal Communist Party member, she and Genia engage in lively discussions about the Party and what is happening.

Analysis

In the beginning of Chapter 34 the author uses plural pronouns to express Genia Ginzburg's thoughts about the posted rules. For example, she says "our one desire" and "all we longed for." Yet at this point in her confinement, she has no contact with other prisoners, so it is impossible for her to know what other solitary confinement prisoners desire or long for. The use of plural pronouns, however, signifies Genia's identification with the others in solitary confinement. The desire to belong is a universal human need, and the author's plural pronouns demonstrate her sense of belonging, despite her lack of knowledge of her fellow prisoners and total isolation from them.

Genia is fully aware of the unpredictability of her situation and thus wants the 22 commandments to stay in force. Although she may find them oppressive, any change will most likely make them worse. Genia prefers the world she knows, which is another universal human reaction. Genia's anxiety is justified, for prison governance seems to be in flux, and the change reflects the instability of the system. Like the purging of the NKVD (the Soviet secret police organization), the prison system is subject to Joseph Stalin's whims and mandates in his quest for power. This quest, however, diminishes the punishment of solitary confinement by making it impossible to isolate all of those sentenced.

Having a cellmate makes Genia's life more bearable. She and Julia Karepova get along well, and they cooperate to fool the warders so they can read. Their close collaboration in finding a way to read extends the theme of humanity. Formerly deprived of human companionship and any way to occupy her time, Genia embraces the books and her new cellmate, grateful for these opportunities to feel and be more human. She and Julia think in similar ways, and both value literature, considering themselves fortunate to have this resource. Through books, they gain a deeper understanding of themselves and others.

Genia continues to find ways to engage with the world, at least her small corner of it. In Chapter 36 she describes the coded written language with which she communicates with her mother. She reaches out to neighboring prisoners and becomes friends with one. Indeed, Genia's continued determination to engage others demonstrates her humanity. Deprived of almost everything, she uses what is at her disposal to satisfy the basic needs of human contact and mental stimulation. She looks for ways to engage her mind and overcome her deprivation, such as using a fish bone as a needle to mend clothing. Years later, when reflecting on this time, she realizes it made her more gentle and kind, showing how she used the experience to grow personally rather than waste away and let her mind, body, and spirit deteriorate. She describes this benefit as "a mind purified by suffering."

The prison uniform, however, dehumanizes Genia. Taking away her personal clothing makes her lose a connection with the past as well as her sense of individuality. Because it is more difficult to maintain a decent appearance with the uniform, it is harder to maintain her sense of worth and well-being. Genia wants to keep her spirits up, and doing so includes maintaining her personal appearance. This is so important to her that she secretly keeps a bra and wears it, even though it is against regulations and could lead to punishment.

Despite Genia's positive spirit and willingness to make the best of a terrible situation, the reality is that she's in solitary confinement. She often uses imagery to express how this isolation affects her. For example, calling her cell a "stone sepulcher" conveys her sense of being buried alive. Trying to make the best of her situation is a noble effort, but she is also realistic about the misery of her life.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Journey into the Whirlwind? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!