Journey into the Whirlwind | Study Guide

Eugenia Ginzburg

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Journey into the Whirlwind | Part 1, Chapters 43–45 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 43: Punishment Cell for the Second Time

In late June of 1938 Genia Ginzburg receives a letter from her mother saying her father died on May 31. Thirty minutes later Genia is placed in the punishment cell for the second time. She is numb and does not feel the fear that she felt her first time there. Her sentence is three days, and she knows she can endure it. Later, when writing her memoir she realizes "people can get used to anything," including the most horrific experiences, such as the atrocities during the Holocaust.

She spends the three days thinking of her father. She had been very close to him when she was young, but they often argued when she was older. Genia was ashamed he was not a "true proletarian," and he disapproved of some of the things she did. Deeply remorseful about their differences, she wishes she could "ask his forgiveness." She feels so numb, it's as if she feels the outside world barely exists. During her first time in the punishment cell, all she could do was think about people in the outside world. This time it is incomprehensible to her that people are doing things like "bathing in the river."

Chapter 44: Memories of Giordano Bruno

During the summer of 1938 it is exceptionally hot, and both Genia and Julia Karepova become ill. Genia has malaria that worsens, and Julia calls for the warder after Genia faints. He immediately summons the doctor, whom they call Dr. Pickwick and who reminds Genia of doctors in the outside world. He has a "true doctor's face: attentive, wise, and kind" and seems genuinely concerned about her health. He orders daily camphor. Julia asks if the window can be open longer for fresh air, but he says it is not within his competence, or ability, to do so.

Genia's health deteriorates so much that she soon forgoes going outdoors because she cannot walk very far. Julia and Genia tell jokes to try to overlook their misery. A favorite is "Giordano Bruno was worse off—his cell was made of lead!" One day the warder tells Genia she must go outside. The doctor has ordered a stool to be placed in the exercise yard, and she is to sit on it for 15 minutes. He has also ordered the window in their cell to be opened for 20 minutes each day.

Chapter 45: The End of the "Monstrous Dwarf"

The period from the summer of 1938 to the spring of 1939 is characterized by emotional inertia and loss of hope, as if "the clock stopped" for Genia and Julia. Although still alive, both are sickly and have no physical or mental energy. They feel "distanced from everything," and even thoughts of the outside world fail to excite them. When New Year's Eve arrives at the end of 1938, they don't have a party as they did the previous year. Genia writes a poem, but it lacks "the optimistic vein of 'next year in Jerusalem.'"

One day in spring 1939 a warder takes down Major Weinstock's 22 commandments, the regulations posted on their wall. They are later replaced. The only change is that the name of the person who authorized the previous commandments, Nikolay Yezhov, has been taped over. This signifies Yezhov, who many believed the main source of all the trouble and responsible for the arrests and imprisonments of innocent people, has fallen and was arrested and imprisoned or killed. This discovery revives Genia's and Julia's spirits, and they regain hope. The commandments are removed a few more times and finally replaced without the name of the individual authorizing them. In May the window of their airless cell is left open for longer than usual—then repeated the next day. Genia takes this action as a sign of a "liberal breeze" bringing welcome change.

Analysis

These chapters show prison life becoming more difficult for Genia Ginzburg. In Chapter 43 a more emotionally immune Genia manages to survive the punishment cell with "numbed indifference," but this protective immunity separates her more from the outside world. It is harder for her to believe in it, and this type of isolation could lead to a loss of hope and resilience. She manages, however, to create verses about her experience, which allows her to process the experience and express her emotions and ideas. In this way, she nurtures her spirit.

Genia's poor health in Chapter 44 makes it difficult for her to maintain her spirits and strength to survive this ordeal. She is unable to do one of the few things she enjoys: go outside. Dr. Pickwick proves to be a humane doctor. Although he initially declines to get involved in requesting her window be open so she can have fresh air, he overcomes his reluctance and orders it, proving not only his humanity but his willingness to take risks in the prison system.

Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), the individual at the heart of Genia's and Julia Karepova's joke, was an Italian mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher who denied the geocentric theory of the universe. He was arrested by the Inquisition for holding views that conflicted with the Roman Catholic Church's beliefs and imprisoned for eight years. After he refused to recant his ideas, he was declared a heretic and burned at the stake.

Genia's and Julia's loss of hope reaches a low point in Chapter 45. Its return in the same chapter corresponds to outside events: the downfall of someone largely responsible for their present situation. In their lives, Nikolay Yezhov is the most powerful person after Joseph Stalin. His downfall and arrest show a major fault line in the Communist Party's organization and the state's system, which delights Genia and Julia, giving them new hope the madness will end.

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