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Between Shades of Gray: Character Analysis
Transcript of Between Shades of Gray: Character Analysis
Relationships and connections with other characters
Relationships with other characters
: Lina initially hates Ulyushka, or at least strongly despises her presence in the hut. When Lina leaves the Altai camp, she is confused as to why Ulyushka gives her family gifts, and her dislike towards the old altaian woman dissipates.
: Elena, despite being treated harshly by Ulyushka at first, returns Ulyushka’s treatment with kindness, giving her cigarettes and food, sometimes in the form of rent, or sometimes as gifts. Also, in Elena’s dying state, she fondly says Ulyushka’s name, implying that she was very thankful for Ulyushka’s care and help. [Page 311]
: There aren’t many situations Lina observes that are between Jonas and Ulyushka, the only times that she sees something between them is when Jonas pays her taxes in wood chips and logs from leftover work. While Jonas was sick, Ulyushka suggests that they throw him out in the cold.
Kretzsky and Ulyushka
Between Shades of Gray:
General Outlook of Character:
Ulyushka appears as a cruel, seemingly heartless old woman who initially dislikes the Vilkas' and constantly takes their food and other goods from them as a form of rent.
- She provides the Vilkas' with shelter in their time in the Altaian camp, and they live as roommates for the time being.
- Ulyushka is described as a small, old Altaian woman.
- Speaks russian to Elena.
- She initially appears to be greedy and apathetic, and her attitude towards the Vilkas’ is somewhat hostile, as she seems to argue against them so that they do not settle in her hut.
- She lets them stay because “feisty people make good workers”, showing that she’ll take advantage of the situation if she has the opportunity. [Page 104]
-When the Vilkas family leaves the Altai camp, Ulyushka seems to be yelling at them in a harsh tone, but she was actually giving them farewell gifts (food, animal hide, and pencil), showing that Ulyushka, over time, had a change of heart toward the Vilkas’, which was probably influenced by Elena’s kindness toward her. [Page 247]
-Another interesting point is how Ulyushka gave Lina a pencil, which shows that she has some knowledge on Lina’s interests, and possibly went through the trouble to get Lina a pencil.
Interpretation of Nikolai's appearance
- A young NKVD officer who helps Lina and her mother. He first appears to be cruel person, but Lina eventually sees the side of good that can come from him, which shows her how everything is not always as they seem.
- Young, blond man.
- NKVD Officer, a follower.
- Seems like he is harsh and like the other guards but in reality inside he is a good guy.
- Shows a small kindness towards Lina and Elena, like driving Elena at night and defending her from the other drunken guards.
- Kretzsky is a man between the shades of gray, he can’t see through the black and white system of the Soviets, he is conflicted.
- He follows the demands of the Soviet Commanders for his own survival. (For example, Page 220, where he throws food at Lina and Jonas with the other NKVD, in order to not be seen as strange to the other guards)
- Kretsky has a mixed relationship with the detainees of the camps, where Lina seems to hate him at the start. Elena, Lina’s mother, sees the good in him, as he is only a young man. She had asked her for his name, Nikolai, where we find that out on Page 259. The name makes it more personal, it shows the relationship between them (akin to how Elena asked for Ulyushka's name so they could address each other properly). They are sometimes seen talking to each other and sharing a stare at times throughout the novel. Knowing the first name makes the relationship between Elena and Nikolai more personal, it shows that they connected as human beings, rather than a prisoner and guard. Maybe because of Nikolai’s past with his mother, he had been reminded of his own mother when he sees Elena. On the other hand, Lina sees Kretzsky as just a guard that makes her life miserable.
- On Page 298, there was a huge turning point between Lina and Kretzsky’s relationship, just when Lina and Elena heard about the news that Kostas (Elena’s husband, Lina’s father) had just died, Elena broke down and Kretzsky tried to help her up, which Lina responds to him by shouting “I HATE YOU”, and Kretzsky's only response he could say to this was “Me too” and he walks away. He feels compassion, sympathy unlike the emotionless commanders Ivanov and Komorov. On Page 324, Kretzsky caught Lina stealing firewood, currently drunk and stumbling. He says that the portrait Lina did before for the previous commander was a way to get food and be warm. He then starts talking about Elena, saying, “She was a good woman. I could see she used to be very pretty”. Lina then argues that she was always pretty and that Kretzsky couldn’t see the beauty.
Ulyushka reminds us of the character from the Disney movie Up, who would be Carl Fredrickson. Carl is a grouchy old man, who dislikes Russel, just like how Ulyushka seems to be a grouchy old woman who dislikes the Vilkas'. In the end of Up, Carl shows that he can be a good person too, by saving Russel and the endangered Bird, like how Ulyushka gave the Vilkas' gifts before they left.
Relationships and connections with other characters, continued
But suddenly Kretzsky says a word that was previously told to Lina by Andrius, “Krasivaya”, meaning beautiful but with strength, unique. Kretzsky says he knew about Lina’s paintings and seen them all. We find out that Kretzsky’s mother was also an artist and Polish, but died. Lina says sorry instinctively but Kretzsky is in disbelief. He tells Lina that his mother died when he was 5 and his father was russian who remarried a russian when he was 6, and says “My mother wasn’t even cold a year“, suggesting that he was hateful towards his father. Kretzsky’s mothers' relatives are in Kolyma that’s why he wanted to leave the barge in Jakutsk, saying that Lina’s not the only one in prison. He compares his situation with Lina, both are forcibly stuck in a place they don’t want to be in. He allows Lina then to steal wood, while telling another story, this time about his second mother, and that she hated him that she hated the polish. Kretzsky began to tear up as Lina was getting wood, evidence that Kretzsky is compassionate and has emotions like Lina, it also shows that some guards are also human, not just cold detached beings. Kretzsky then leaves, but not before he apologizes to Lina. On Page 334, Lina was saved by Dr. Samodurov, where they were given food and water. Lina asks Samodurov how did he find them, in which he replies, "Nikolai Kretzsky".
Kretzsky reminds us of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was an ethnic German industrialist, German spy, and member of the Nazi party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. Both Kretzsky and Schindler are both confused and conflicted, and took the action to save those who were being victims of this war.
Two things that we found similar between Ulyushka and Kretzsky was that both characters were actually not what they seemed like they were. Ulyushka, who looked like a cruel, grouchy, old woman, became kind in her own way in the end. Kretzsky appeared as a heartless NKVD guard, but Lina then notices that he tried to help the Vilkas' through out the novel. Both characters were important because they showed Lina that the world wasn't just black and white, but that there are people that are between shades of gray.
By Luna and Abejo