Svitlana Kobets

Discovering the Universe Between the Feminine and Masculine: Valerii Shevchuks Hunchback Zoia

Canadian Slavonic Papers/Revue Canadienne des Slavistes

Vol. XLIV, No. 1, March 2002


ABSTRACT: In this essay I explore the mythological subtext of Valerii Shevchuks novella Hunchgack Zoia. I argue that the theme of initiation of the male characterscongruous with the theme of healing repeatedly present in Shevchyuks worksis central to this work. My analysis of this topic relies on such Jungian notions as the archetype, conscious, unconscious, and individuation. I further argue that, like Shevchuks other works, his Hunchback Zoia endorses implicit post-colonial arguments, inviting parallels between the individuation of the characters and the nations individuation. On this level the novella suggests that modern Ukraine is capable of reintegrating its cultural and spiritual heritage and restoring its national selfhood.



Most of Valerii Shevchuks (b. 1939-) worksfor decades suppressed by Soviet authoritieswere published only after Ukraines independence (1991). Creations of a truly great artist, they have national and universal dimensions. They can be read as myths, but they also endorse a political subtext. Yet, his political argument is never explicit. His critics note that, unlike the militant and highly politicized arguments of his contemporaries, notably the generation of the sixties, Shevchuks politics are always implicit and covert.[i] While criticism readily acknowledges the political dimension of Shvechuks prose, it has been the artistic richness of his fictional universe that has attracted most attention.

The importance of mythical and folk elements in Shevchuks work in general and in his novella Hunchback Zoia in particular, has been pointed out on several occasions. One of Shevchuks foremost critics, Marko Pavlyshyn[ii] was the first to delve into his mythological prose.[iii] In focusing attention on the complexity and richness of Shevchuks artistic universe, Pavlyshyn cited his mythological symbolism and the diversity of topoifolk, historical, religious, and philosophicalthat result, as he puts it, in the restitution of the sacral dimension.[iv] Pavlyshyn posits that Shevchuk's argument may be described as a rediscovery of sacredness in the worlda rewriting of its profane text as myth, and a negation of the authority of philosophical materialism."[v] George Grabowicz further explored these dimensions of Shevchuks world in a recent article that addressed the mythological and socio-cultural implications of Shevchuks short story Snake-Woman (1994) and the Hunchback Zoia (1995), both of which exploit the archetype of the witch.[vi] Grabowicz discusses Shevchuks use of demonization, especially of women,[vii] situating this cultural tendency within the context of Ukrainian folk and literary traditions. While Grabowicz argues that the image and archetype of the witch is crucial in Shevchuks works[viii]as well as in the so-called chimerical[ix] prose on the whole, he also contends that the demonism of Shevchuks witches is toned down, deflated by the very modality of the narrative that displays it.[x]

In the present essay I would like to join the on-going discussion of the myth in Shevchuks prose, with a singular focus on Hunchback Zoia.[xi] I will argue that the theme of initiation of the novellas male characterswhich is congruous with the repeated theme of healing in Shevchuks works[xii]is among the central topics of this piece. I will show, that similar to Shevchuks earlier prose, his Hunchback Zoia endorses implicit post-colonial argument, which I see as part of the mythological subtext of the novella. My arguments will rely on the typological analysis of Shevchuk's "mythological prose" provided by Marko Pavlyshyn in his article "Mythological, Religious, and Philosophical Topoi in the Prose of Valerii Shevchuk". There Pavlyshyn employs the term topos, basing himself on the modern topos theorists Walter Veit and Lothar Bornscheuer as an aesthetic structure of any scale (from the individual image and motif to the narratological unit) that is recurrent and can be seen as a medium of diverse arguments.[xiii] In Shevchuk's works, according to Pavlyshyn, Phenomena of everyday life are endowed with a sacred aura and become symbols that seem to point to some profound meaning, without however, yielding easily to exegesis."[xiv]

In order to effectively approach the mythological subtext of Shevchuks novella, i.e., to interpret its symbols and topoi and to discuss their role in the narrative, we must turn to archetypal criticism, which has been productive in studying folklore and myth. In fact, one of the best-known practitioners of this method, Joseph Campbell, affirms that, The bold and truly epoch-making writings of the psychoanalysts are indispensable to the student of mythology.[xv] Yet this method of analysis also has a specifically literary import. Thus, according to Alvin A. Lee, Archetypal criticism focuses on the generic, recurring and conventional elements in literature that cannot be explained as matters of historical influence or tradition.[xvi] This critical method, which was developed by social and cultural anthropologists, as well as scholars of literature and art,[xvii] makes extensive use of the ideas of Carl Jung, which are among its founding concepts, and which will be essential for our own reading of Hunchback Zoia. We will rely extensively on Jungian notions such as archetype, conscious and unconscious psyche, and individuation.

Jung describes archetypal images or archetypes as forms or images of a collective nature which occur practically all over the earth as constituents of myths and at the same time as autochthonous, individual products of unconscious origin.[xviii] Joseph Campbell points out that Jung borrowed this term from classical sources[xix] and further says that the tradition of the subjectively known forms is, in fact, coextensive with the tradition of myth, and is the key to the understanding and use of mythological images[xx] He also argues that the symbols of mythology are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source.[xxi] While archetypes summarize recognizable cultural types, symbols have a simpler function. They facilitate the rendition of the content of the unconsciousbe it an individual human psyche or such collective creations as fairy tales and myths. According to Jung, human psyche is comprised of the sum total of its conscious and unconscious components, which unite in a dynamic of reciprocity. The unconscious plane of the psyche accounts for what we do not objectively know but what can express itself through our dreams, visions, and fantasies. Despite its ability for self-expression, the psychic unconscious cannot comprehend itself (i.e. its grievances, problems, deficiencies) on its own. It is its conscious counterpart that performs this function. The unconscious and conscious agents of the psyche can also be conceived, respectively, as feminine and masculine counterparts, which eternally seek to integrate. The removal or absence in the psychic symbiosis of either of its components results in psychic imbalance, thus hindering a persons harmonious development or individuation. Individuation requires the combined efforts of both psychic components, leading to the overcoming of an individuals deficiencies, to his/her maturing and, ultimately, to the emergence of a harmonious personality.[xxii] By applying the Jungian method to Hunchback Zoya, we can construe its feminine and masculine characters as representatives of the unconscious and conscious parts of the novellas psychic microcosm. On this basis, the confrontation drama between the female and male characters can be read as a story of their individuation. The personal individuation of the novellas four male protagonists can also be viewed in the broader context of Ukraines recent history, thus inviting a parallel with the national individuation of Ukraine. Once it is considered from this vantage point, the story goes well beyond being a tale about the transformation of individual lives. It becomes an account that reflects on the reintegration by modern Ukraine (a nation whose collective psyche was harmed by both Soviet totalitarianism and Russian chauvinism) of its cultural and spiritual heritage, leading to the restoration of its national self[xxiii] and, by extension, to its reemergence on the international arena as an independent national polity.

            The novella is set on the fringes of a Ukrainian city, Zhytomyr, where four males, recent high school graduates and former classmates, are brought together by their common interests in the opposite sex and the pursuits of sexual pleasure. The narrative voice belongs to the only intellectual among the four young men, the groups ideologist and, to a large degree, its leader. He is a student at the local Pedagogical Institute, who takes interest in music and literature, and is prone to philosophizing. He shares these interests with Yurko, who is closest to him. In the group the narrator and Yurko are the only Ukrainian speakers. The linguistic deficiencies of the other characters reflect the postcolonial condition of a Russified Ukraine, a nation that has forgotten its native language and is unaware of its culture. These characteristics are ascribed to the second, much less sophisticated, pair of boys, Oleh and Hennadii. Oleh is a student at a vocational school; he takes pride in speaking Russian, but does so with a strong Ukrainian accent. His alleged command of the state language makes him assume a condescending attitude toward his friends. The truck driver Hennadii speaks surzhyk, i.e., the pidgin Russian spoken by uneducated Ukrainians. His virgin mind is not polluted by any intellectual content. We hear him ask, "Who is Gogol`?" when the narrator assumes that he knows the Dikan`ka Stories and compliments him on that. Despite the differences among the four, they all share an interest in the opposite sex. Their search for a princess (10), to quote the narrator, leads to constant sexual adventures, identified in the groups jargon as a "straw love". "Straw love" stands for an attraction that does not last. It brings the young men excitement, enhances their masculine pride, and confirms their vision of themselves as masters of their universe. For these provincial Lotharios the successful pursuit of sexual gratification is all that matters. They take pleasure in their rationality and subscribe to a worldview that absolutizes the criteria of their patriarchal society. In fact, their world is a miniature replica of the patriarchal social order that enjoys unequivocal authority over women. Despite this, the young men approach women with caution. They are wary of the danger of being caught in the web of marital life, and seemingly solve this problem by avoiding long-term relationships with women.

Women in their world are reduced to satisfying the constant sexual demand inherent in the game of straw love. Yet between their adventures, the four friends hide within the shelter of their own company, which also includes three girls: Oksana, Marta and Liena. With them the young men engage in so-called lazy love. Lazy love is a controlled venture, without promises or obligations. It is supposed to be totally safe, since all seven participants know the unwritten rules, according to which no one expects either permanency or commitment; therefore the four male friends can share their girls. Notwithstanding this order of things, there is a more or less stable division into couples, which is based on similarity and attraction: the narrator is paired with Oksana, Hennadii with Marta, Oleh with Liena. Yurko alone has no partner.

Within this crew, the girls seem to have a totally subordinate position. They are characterized by the narrator as creatures of the lower order and are reduced to the role of sex objects. However, they do not appear to resent this role, thus confirming the legitimacy of their partners values and their perception of the world:


, , , , , , .  [Thus, our company was held together quite harmoniously, although it would be difficult to find more differing people than [the seven of] us, and everyone was quite happy [with the arrangement].] (10)


Although in their own eyes, the young men are masters of their perfect and harmonious universe, in reality this harmony is shown to be rather illusory. Indeed, the absence within the group of development and change points to its stagnant nature, which is also implied in the term lazy love. The setbacks that the young men suffer as the story unfolds, uncover the perilous nature of their self-deceiving worldview, illustrating the deficiencies endemic to the male characters.

            Early in the text the reader gains awareness that the young men's universe is one of constraints and limitations. At first, the young men are mentally and spiritually confined, as they unconditionally and instinctively accept the regulations of the existing world order (i.e., Soviet totalitarian regime). Their implicit political conformity makes them stay within permitted limits.[xxiv] The motif of limits and borders is further delineated in terms of spatial confines. Thus, while their "straw love" affairs always take place beyond the borders of their neighborhood, their submissive "lazy love" partners are spatially located within its confines.


, () : , , . [In our search for exciting sexual adventures we would leave the borders of our neighborhood and go downtown and to the park with its disco, and anywhere else it was possible]. (9)


The young mens neighborhood can be seen as their secure territory and refuge, bringing out their lack of confidence and wariness of the wide-open spaces of life. If applied to their psychological profile, this insecurity translates as immaturity, absence of wholeness, and therefore as the precondition for individuation.

            Indeed, the young mens most consequential deficiency is their lack of psychic wholeness. The fact that they do not have trusting and harmonious relationships with their women shows that their psychic microcosms are devoid of the integrated feminine component. Hence the young mens unremitting yearning for love and sex, which, if considered in the frame of Jungian analysis, reflects their subconscious longing for wholeness, or, in other words, their need of individuation. Yet, their adherence to a one-dimensional worldview, as well as their conviction that rationality is the only path to ultimate truth, thwarts their individuation.

            The topos of rationality as an unequivocally masculine attribute is prominent throughout the novella. The men absolutize the rational, materialistic criteria that were given them both by the patriarchal society and by the atheistic Soviet ideology. From the Jungian point of view, the rationality of civilized man corresponds to the Conscious and is a source of endless transgressions by the latter against the Unconscious (feminine) counterpart of the psyche.[xxv] The more the emphasis is put on the consciouswhich evinces itself as rational thinkingthe more suppressed and severed becomes the intuitive, unconscious part of the human psyche.

            The cerebral perception of the world by the rational males constantly clashes with the intuitive vision of the women. In fact, this is just one of many points of contention between the two sexes and underscores one of the novellas central themes, namely, the strife and antagonism between the feminine and masculine principles. While the young men appear to be in control, they nevertheless, avoid open confrontations with the women and always attempt to lure rather than force them into submission. They also fear confident, assertive women, as evident in the narrators reaction to Klava, a remarkably energetic and aggressive young woman whom he once met at the disco. Though he first singled her out as the most attractive, he later became intimidated by her sexual ardor and ended the affair even before it started. Yet her frightful image kept haunting him throughout the story, conspicuously fusing in his dreams with Zoias.

            The young mens fear of women assumes a variety of forms. They are afraid of being trapped into marriage and becoming fathers, and in the long run, they fear life. Existential fears find expression in the narrators conversation with Yurko, when the former explicates his own, and the groups, position in life:


            , , . ճ ? : , , , ? [We are young and therefore want to have fun. Whats wrong with it? We know full well what is in store for us after our playtime is over: work, kids, familythe same drudgery day in and day out. Isnt that boredom itself?] (16)


The young mens fear of life is expressed by their preference for lazy love, for existential stasis. The narrator consistently expresses these fears in political terms:


, , , : , , , . [You might think Im cynical, but I dont see much difference between promiscuity and politics. They both can get you in trouble. If you dont play safe with the former, you may end up with a sexually transmitted disease, games with the latter may get you locked up, which is also a disease of sorts.] (23)


After drawing a parallel between sex and politics, the narrator acknowledges his political conformity, articulating it in terms of allegiance to the laws of the tsardom of fools and pronouncing Fate to be his master (15). Moreover, he also declares himself Mr. Nobody, silenced and shaped into submissiveness and stasis by the all-powerful Soviet state. He extends this definition of himself as a rootless, passive, and tremulous individual to the entire Ukrainian nation:


, , , , , , ; , . , , , , . [I dont believe in the state, because I do not want to be its servant, nor do I want to kill myself for its good. I believe that any state is an offspring of death, especially the one, in which I happened to live. I call it the tsardom of fools. It is not for nothing that the fool is our most beloved folk character, especially the tales about him becoming a tsar. More than that, I believe that my land does not have its own statehood because from time immemorial it has been populated by such wild individualists as myself.] (23)


This avowal seems to testify to the narrators awareness of his responsibility for both his own destiny and the destiny of his land. Yet, in fact, it does not. It rather serves as a disclaimer, which acknowledges his conscious predilection for conformity, stasis, and non-action. His reasons for political non-involvement are similar to his cautious attitude toward the opposite sex: in both cases he is afraid of taking responsibility. As the narrator continues philosophizing about his political credo, he completely justifies his own passivity and non-involvement in any national or political resistance, persistently covering up his indecisiveness and spinelessness by demagogy:


, , , , . , , , , , .  , , , , , , ... [I believe that sacrifice in the name of good is but a waste, because a human being is incapable of grasping the ultimate meaning of either good or evil. These two very often get intermingled. Besides, just like its counterpart, evil can be both manifest and concealed. How many fanatics sacrificed their lives for the apparent good! They were absolutely convinced that it was real, yet it was but some kind of evil, hidden behind one of its misleading masks. This is why I believe that in such matters one has to be very cautious, never be fanatical, constantly question everything. And, its better, I believe, to be a nobody than a sham...] (24)


            No matter how complex and sophisticated the narrators philosophical discussions sound, in the end they all amount to mere sophistry. They also bring to the fore his (and by extension that of the other males) main problemthe fear of life.

            The "no questions asked" rule is the main pillar of the groups alleged stability. The chief purpose of this tenet, which can easily be traced to the precepts of the Soviet regime, is to safeguard the status quo, securing the continuity of the male-dominated world order. Since the women obediently accept this premise, the men are convinced that they are in control. As was noted earlier, they view their company as harmonious and stable, though from the very outset it is shown as quite flawed. Indeed the odd number of the participants (seven) cannot be evenly divided into pairs. Yet the men are in favor of this imbalance and see it as an advantage. They know that the girls present a latent subversive element: even though the girls accept the present order of things, all three of them have long-term goals and calculations. They are awaiting their chance to convert the lazy love with their partners into active love, thus turning their partners into husbands. The young men fear the possibility of such a development, because they understand that the collapse of the group will result in their loss of control. Therefore, they persist on the legitimacy of this order, thus showing that the presumed security of the male-dominated universe is based on self-deception and, hence, is illusory.[xxvi] The end result is that they bar themselves from any opportunity for individuation.

            It is not until the hunchback Zoia makes her appearance in the neighborhood that the real essence of the happy-go-lucky company is revealed and its male power challenged. Zoias main characteristics are her stunning beauty and her appalling handicap:


            , (). , 璺 .

            , .

            ! . ...

            , , , ⳺ !

            ? . !

            [Stunning! said Yurko. Why would such a beauty be marred by such a hideous handicap!

The rose and her thorns, I continued.

As for me, cripples dont turn me on, said Oleh.

Were it not for the hump, Id bang her with pleasure! Hennadii showed his stud teeth.

But you dont want her the way she is, Oleh puckered up his mouth, I guess the hump would spoil all the pleasure, wouldnt it?] (11)


All members of the group make a comment on this discrepancy (9-10).  In fact, the hump is Zoia's single most important feature: it makes her an outcast from a society obsessed with "normalcy." It also it makes her taboo in the eyes of the men who, though instantly bewitched by her striking beauty, cannot transgress against their own masculine pride and feel only condescension for a cripple:


, : ..., , : , , 򳺿 , . [Our male group arrived at a consensus on the matter. Hennadiis comment, Were it not for the hump became its succinct if primitive expression. And thats understandable: being physically normal males, we could not possibly be sexually attracted to a cripple, no matter how beautiful.] (12)


Because of Zoia's humpa constant reminder of her dangerous otherworldly naturethe young men immediately recognize her as a hostile element in their male-dominated society.  Their repulsion is so great that it makes her a feared entity. Even before she becomes part of the scene, Zoias beauty is called satanic (9): soon afterwards, she is declared a demonic creature and a witch (13). Their fear of her hump prompts the men to set out on the time-honored path of the witch-hunt, a trademark of patriarchal society.[xxvii] By doing so, they reveal not only the inadequacy of their rationalistic, one-dimensional worldviewwhich falls short when trying to account for the feminine principlebut also exhibit its mediocre and cowardly essence. Zoias hump is her single most important symbol because it sums up her meaning for the group. Indeed, it becomes the reason for her demonization, making her a powerful, superhuman entity and endowing her with the meaning of an archetypal woman. As such she also assumes the role of the unconscious.

            The moment Zoia makes her appearance, she brings important changes to the simplistic universe of the young men and disrupts their perception of it. Reality for the men loses its homogeneity and splits into the incompatible opposites of day and night, dream and awakening, beauty and ugliness, body and spirit, thereby revealing its fragmented nature and unexpected complexity. The young men attempt to protect their world from the intrusion of Zoias demonic powers, only to find themselves in the middle of chaos, where nothing is what it used to be. At the same time, Zoia influencesand to a large degree transformstheir emphatically cerebral way of being. She challenges it with her intuitive, sensual stance, which proves to be more powerful than their rationality. While they were markedly rationalistic up to encountering Zoia, after she enters their lives, the young men suddenly start to contemplate the world in terms of feelings, sensations, and spells.

            Soon the narrator realizes that he has been robbed of his power, and that Zoia is in control not only of the group but of his own individual self as well. This realization takes place after Zoias first outing with the group, during which she is matched with Yurko, and becomes his first sexual experience. Eventually, hunchback Zoia bewitches all four men and within a short period of time lures them one after another into having sexual intercourse with her. Each of her successive partners fears and attempts to avoid this encounter, yet all of them fail miserably. The fact that Zoia made certain that each of the men could be a possible cause of her pregnancy terrifies the irresponsible young men, who fear the prospect of having to pay alimony and losing their freedom. Yet, according to the commonsensical Oksana, Zoia's actions are considered noble because, by allowing equal opportunity for paternity to all four men, Zoia obviated the very issue of fatherhood. It later becomes clear that Zoias only aspiration was motherhood: in spite of her exceptional beauty, the hump was a fatal obstacle to marriage. Thus Zoias encounters with the young men lead to her self-realization as a mother. They cause irreversible changes in the mens lives as well. After having had an intercourse with the hunchback, the youths flee the scene hurt, horrified, humiliated, and conquered.  For each of them, the sexual encounter with Zoia becomes the last event of their carefree life. In the aftermath, each of them withdraws from the group, marries his partner, and settles down. Thus the young men of the novella suffer a miserable yet incomprehensible defeat in their clash with the woman they pronounced a witch.

            Zoia is endowed with all the stock characteristics of a witch: she lives by night; controls nature; bewitches men; and is suspected of having the ability to fly and cast spells.[xxviii] Her humpthe hallmark of a witch[xxix]reinforces her role as a demonic creature. As such, she is a challenger and adversary of the novellas patriarchal social order.

Legitimized by the advent of Christianity and sustained throughout its history by both state and ecclesiastical institutions, patriarchal society continuously guarded the established supremacy of men over women,[xxx] preventing women from entering the political, social and cultural arenas. In the patriarchal world women assume the subordinate role of care-takers of men and their progeny. This sociological structure has traveled to modernity more or less unchanged and was successfully incorporated into the Soviet structure. Reflecting the reality of Soviet life, the male figures enjoy a position of authority, whereas the women occupy an inferior one. They may be professionals, but all of them are fundamentally housewives, whose main role is accommodating their males. This is true of the narrators mother and Oksanas; Liena, Marta and Oksana all become housewives after marriage.  Thus, if we visualize the structure of this socium as an icon, we see that womenrather consistently called devils and demonic creaturesfigure at the bottom and men at the top. Zoia's marginalizing hump epitomizes this juxtaposition of the sexes, but it also is a mark of womens power.

            Sexuality was the paramount criterion in accusations of witchcraft.[xxxi] The charges usually were: copulating with Satan, being promiscuous, sodomy and bestiality, stealing husbands, stealing penises, producing barrenness in women and men, emasculating men,[xxxii] etc. In the novella Zoia is charged with and found guilty of all of the above: she is promiscuous, she emasculates her partners, she casts spells and makes herself irresistible to both husbands and boyfriends. Consequently, just like witches in general, she is the opposite of what is socially expected from a woman in a patriarchal community. Just like a traditional witch, she is an untamed, independent woman who refuses to abide by the laws of the patriarchal social formation, a person who will not be subdued by its repressions.[xxxiii] Also, since she challenges male power and threatens the well-being of the patriarchal universe, the latter makes sure that she be hunted down and exterminated. In fact, this happens at the end of the novella when one of the jealous wives, whose husband was seduced by Zoia, destroys the hunchbacks beauty by burning her face with acid.

            When Zoia becomes part of the scene, she overshadows the three girls and takes over their role of the unconscious. Indeed, she becomes friends with all the three girls and wins their support, thereafter acting on their behalf. Thus, she comes to represent the unconscious part of the psychic microcosm of the story. The feminine principle incarnate, she becomes the force capable of implementing the men's individuation.

While Zoia acts as the women's trustee, the narrator performs the same role for the men. Since he is the ideological leader of the group and the mouthpiece of manhood, he becomes the embodiment of the masculine principle in the story. The anonymity of the narrator supports this reading of his role. Therefore, Zoia and the narrator acquire the symbolism of the archetypal man and woman (or of the feminine and masculine principles), and thus represent the conscious and unconscious sides of the psychic universe of the story. Indeed, according to Jung, the contents of the archetypal character are manifestations of the processes in the collective unconscious.[xxxiv] Their concretization in fairy tales and myths results in an expression of the universal archetypal content by means of personified imagery, which has explicit historical or national relevance.[xxxv] Therefore, the encounter and confrontation between Zoia and the narrator, presented in terms of the archetypal struggle between the opposite sides of the psyche, suggest the universal and national relevance of the novella.

            The struggle between the male and female counterparts explicitly dominates the narrative. As this theme gains momentum, a number of crucial changes occur: the lives of the groups seven members, their vision of the world, of themselves, their partners and friendsas well as their attitude toward sexchange dramatically. Zoia is the catalyst for all these changeschanges, which in fact can be viewed as the answers to the questions that the narrative places before the males.

                  It was mentioned earlier that the no questions asked convention is one of the foundations of the established order in both the macrocosm of the state and its miniature replica in the novella. This order of things is ripped apart by the curve of Zoia's hump, which is in effect a symbolic question mark. If the first important symbolic meaning of the hump is that of the feminine principle, the second one is that of a question mark. Zoia indeed is the personification of the power of questions to undermine the essence of the male world.[xxxvi] These questions are addressed to the storys male characters, who are unable to answer them. As a result, the disharmony and flawed nature of their stagnant world is revealed, and the male characters' worldview is stripped of its power. Their suppressed fears come to the fore, haunting them as premonitions and nightmares. As they find themselves in the new reality brought about by Zoia, they are forced to see that their freedom is illusory and that they are totally controlled by the hunchback.

            The notion of freedom is connected to Zoia's symbolism as a witch and is presented as the mythological topos of flight. It stands in opposition to the stasis that characterizes the men's predicament. Universal belief ascribes to witches the ability to fly, and it is no wonder, then, that one of the first remarks made by the young men about Zoia is Hennadiis jocular suggestion that she not only has a tail but can also soar:


             , ! . . [Sure she is a witch! I bet she has a tail too! And she flies at night.] (13).


In fact, throughout the story Zoia is described as a flying entity: she purportedly flies like a witch, is often compared to a bird, is weightless and soaring (13, 16, 19, 31). Flight or "magic flight" symbolically stands for the comprehension of secret things, of metaphysical, transcendental truths.[xxxvii] It signifies a higher consciousness, an ability to go beyond material confines, and therefore is a manifestation of ultimate freedom.[xxxviii] In sharp contrast to Zoia, the four young men are slaves of convention and perfect subjects of the Soviet regime. When Zoia intrudes into their world, she offers them an alternative perspective on life, one which is enigmatic, sinister, and irreducible to the clear-cut formulas they possess. Her challenge to their moribund stagnant life is presented in the narrative as the topos of initiation.          

Initiation, evinced as the fall, is introduced when the narrator recounts the events of the groups first outing with Zoia. Before this excursion, the young men drew lots to decide who would be Zoia's date, and Yurko ended up Zoia's first victim. In losing his virginity, he becomes the first Adam chased out of the illusory male Paradise. His sin parallels Adam's in several respects. First, he loses his innocence and child-like perception of the world; second, like Adam, he is a passive participant of an event instigated by a woman; and third, he is introduced into the complexity of existence where the status quo of a one-dimensional reality is irreversibly lost. Unlike the world Yurko leaves behind, the new universe is devoid of simplicity. It is replete with questions that demand independent thinking and decisive actions. Before his sexual encounter with Zoia, Yurko had only begun to intuit the falseness of the groups existence. He shared his doubts with the narrator:


            ..., , , ... , ... !..


            , . , ! , ---! , , , . ! ... , .

            , ?


[To tell the truth, I had enough of our so-called fun, with this exchange of partners You and Oksana are more or less OK, but the others arent they strangers to us?

Are you getting old?

May be, or maybe not. Id like to have something more meaningful in my life. I had enough of these bloody talks about babes, of these games, of playfulness. None of it looks real! I have a feeling that there is more to life.

Do you think there is?

Positive.]  (16)


            Yet even though Yurko attempted to think on his own and step out of the confinement  of his clique and the Soviet state, he could not break with the group. Only after the experience with Zoia is Yurkos transformation complete. For him, Zoia becomes a catalyst in the process of shedding the skin of his immaturity, provincial stasis, and unawareness. After his "fall," Yurko withdraws from the group, thereby articulating a decisive, even though indirect, challenge to the group's philosophy. He enters another mode of life, becoming a mature and self-aware individual symbolized by his underground political activities, which eventually lead to persecution and incarceration by the Soviet state. By sharing the fate of nationally and politically aware individuals, Yurko separates himself from the slumbering world of his youth.

            The three other young men attempt to prolong their infantile life of irresponsibility, refusing to admit that it is no longer the same. Zoias intrusion threatens their happy-go-lucky existence, defies their attempts to explain it, and fills it with anxiety. The most sensitive and articulate of the three, the narrator perceives this new reality distressful reality:


, , , , , , , , , .

[Then I sensed an unexplainable anxiety, which suddenly impregnated the night. And though there were no reasons to think so, it appeared to me that either danger, or some kind of threat, or distress was awaiting us all and that it was about to destroy our carefree company, our friendship, and us as well.] (19)


            The threat of inevitable, imminent changes frightens and paralyzes the young men, making them all Zoias easy prey. After their initiatory intercourse with Zoia, the thoughtless Oleh and Hennadii escape into a new mode of life, withdrawing into the shell of matrimony with Liena and Marta respectively. But the agony of the narrators initiation is far more painful and complicated than those of his friends. The final battle between the feminine and masculine takes the form of a confrontation between Zoia and the narrator.

            Tormented by his contradictory feelings with respect to Zoia, the narrator attempts to comprehend the nature of her power and thus to escape her net. While he is afraid to admit to himself the love he has for Zoia, his dreams betray his true passions. He vacillates between the clarity of day, when he is seemingly in control, and the nightmares of his dreams, when Zoia reigns supreme. Succumbing to his irrational love would mean much more than simply becoming the laughing stock of the neighborhood: it would mean a complete failure of his doctrine as well as renunciation of his masculine pride. The narrators fear of such consequences leads to persistent defiance of Zoias spells and a frantic defense of the presumed integrity of his principles. Yet even as he struggles, it becomes clear to him that the method of rational analysis has failed him miserably, that the world is no longer a playground in which he controls the rules.    When the narrator is just about to become the last victim of Zoia's demonic lust, he ventures to ask her his single most important question, "What is her goal? What is it that she wants?" (52) Zoia answers that she wants to make him come alive, implying that his existential condition is not life but rather a self-deception and an illusion of life.[xxxix]


            , .ͳ , . .

            , ?

            ͳ, . . .


            , .

[You are cold, Zoia uttered quietly, Almost as if you were a piece of  ice. Therefore, you are unapproachable! Even Im scared of you.

Are you scared that Ill hurt you?

No, not of that. But Im scared of your cold. Im afraid that my warmth wont be enough to thaw you.

Why would you need to thaw me?

To bring you back to life, she replied quietly.] (52)


With these words Zoia reveals her role as an agent of the narrators individuationthe very same role she performs for all the novellas male characters.

            In primitive societies the ritual of initiation marks the individuals transition into adulthood and maturity. If expressed in terms of individuation, initiation is the creation of psychic wholeness through the integration of its dissociated components. Their fusion results in, successively, a death of the initiates former deficient hypostasis and in his rebirth as a fully integrated individual. The first stage of initiation is a period of total crisis (so-called initiatory death), which disintegrates the former personality. During this stage, by performing a number of symbolic actions, the initiate returns to the pre-cosmogonic state of formlessness and chaos. His initiatory death signifies a regresus ad uterum, which is a precondition for a rebirth, or a transition into a new mode of being.[xl]

            Initiatory, symbolic death is usually accompanied by torture and mutilation. Likewise, all the men in the story go through unparalleled humiliation and pain in the form of sexual intercourse with Zoia and are, as a result (in their own self-perception), emasculated. All of them complain that she burned and drained them (literally, sucked them out [31]). Zoia is referred to as Death throughout the story. Her meaning as initiatory death is revealed to the narrator in a dream, which contains imagery of initiation and links Zoia with death:


... , , , , ,   ... , , , , - , .

            ? .

            , , ., , , . , , , , , ?

[...  like a fish, I was swimming into an open gorge of the cave. Somewhere in its depth a huge shark-like, large-toothed maw opened up. And that maw suddenly swallowed me... hen Oksana stepped out of the dark, dressed in a swimming suit, and started talking to me for some reason in Yurkos voice. She said that by letting the hunchback Zoia into our company we made a big mistake, because she is not a human being but our death.

            What are you jabbering, I said in terror.

            I am saying what I know, said Oksana in Yurkos voice, Maybe not in the sense that we all will die for real, but some part of us will. See for yourself: Yurkos innocence has already died. Then mine will die, then itll be the our groups turn, then your desire to live carelessly and light-heartedly will disappear, then our naivet will die. Isnt this more than enough?] (20-21)


            Zoias function as initiatory death is endorsed by her symbolic attributes: night, water, and moon, all of which share the significance of representing both the feminine principle and death. Significantly, the sexual encounters between the young men and Zoia occur at night, in moonlight and by the river. These natural topoi furnish a setting dominated by the feminine principle, thus showing that the initiation is into the realm of the feminine. Both water and night stand here for the undifferentiated, unformed totality, which symbolizes both the Cosmic Night and the unconscious feminine principle. The latter remains undifferentiated until integrated by its conscious masculine counterpart. The Cosmic Nightthe realm to which the initiate belongs before the rebirthis also a symbol of the sum total of all possibilities.[xli] The initiation offers the men the possibilities of maturing, becoming strong, overcoming the deficiency of unawareness and stasis. If realized, these changes will influence the young mens psychic transformation and lead them toward individuation, which is the maturation process of personality induced by the analysis of the unconscious."[xlii] Yurkos initiation is real: it is his step into a self-aware life. However, the three remaining men fail to seize this opportunity and consequently lose their chance for initiatory rebirth. Since they fail to overcome the death stage of initiation, they become consumed by the existential doom of provincial life. Notwithstanding their failure to individuate, Zoia's efforts are not futile. While undergoing initiation, the men gave Zoia their semen enabling her to conceive and bring about a new life. The primary result of the four mens initiation is therefore not their psychic rebirth but the biological birth of Zoia's child.

            The child motif assumes a variety of shapes and meanings in world mythologies. Yet, since it always stands for the integration of the feminine and masculine counterpartsor the unconscious and conscious parts of the psycheits most global symbolic meaning is that of individuation and achievement of psychic wholeness. Symbolic expressions of wholeness include both roundness[xliii] and quaternary, which appear in the story as Zoia's pregnancy and the child's four putative fathers. Since the psychic deficiency is always overcome through the unification of its alienated conscious and unconscious components, the unifying significance of the child inevitably includes the healing function. From here comes the meaning of the child as a triumph over the unconscious state and as an attainment of a higher consciousness of individuation. This psychic genesis is always expressed as an abnormal conception[xliv], which is certainly the case in the story: Zoia's child is by all means extraordinary, since her son is the progeny of four fathers and a witch. This conception is also inseparable from the initiatory death of the fathers, which is related to the childs abandonment even before his birth. Thus the child symbolism has in the story such significant notions as the witch's child and abandoned child.

            In Jungian analysis of fairy tales the motif of a witch's child is identified as "the treasure hard to attain" motif,[xlv] which, as well as the motif of the childs abandonment and insignificance, symbolically shows how precarious is the psychic possibility of wholeness. This symbolism of the child indicates that the pathway to attaining the "highest good"[xlvi] of integration and individuation of the human psyche is always accompanied by enormous difficulties, the overcoming of which requires superhuman efforts. Hence in the novella, the catalyst of the young mens individuation is a demonic being with superhuman abilities.

            Symbolic interpretation of the child as a redemptive integration of the human psyche can be extended to communities, nations, and mankind in general. If contemplated on this universal level, the child-motif represents the pre-conscious childhood aspect of the collective psyche. The collective psyche under consideration is that of the Ukrainian nation. Represented in the novella by its eight main characters, the Ukrainian nation is shown as a lacking in national self-consciousness, passive and stagnating community that has been brain-washed and enslaved by the Soviet regime. Such features of the novellas main characters as ignorance of the Ukrainian cultural heritage and contempt for the Ukrainian language point to the nation's lack of self-awareness. It is implied that Ukraine, as well as its fictional representatives in the story, is experiencing the state of initiatory death and Cosmic Night. The struggle between her corrupted conscious (revealing such deficiencies as lack of national awareness, Russification, and political conformism of her people) and her yearning for integration unconscious (Ukraines forgotten historical, religious, and cultural past) persists and we can assume that the novellas fatherless child stands for hope of a successful outcome. If seen from this vantage point, the symbolism of the child translates as Ukraine's imminent possibility for developing an integrated, harmonious, and vital national self.

            This optimism about the Ukrainian nation can also be seen in one more symbolic meaning of Zoia's hump, namely, in the popular belief that by touching a hump one can conjure up luck. Indeed, the storys male characters, and by extension the whole of their nation, are given a chance to take off their rose-colored glasses, to contemplate (even though for a moment) an unadorned truth about themselves, and to ponder the necessity for global change. It is true that three out of the four men become frightened by the vision and seek refuge in existential stasis. They are not ready to individuate and miss the opportunity of developing into mature individuals capable of gaining self-awareness. Yet, they all lose the paradise of their ignorance, which in itself can be considered as a step forward. Besides, one of them, Yurko, seizes the opportunity of becoming an active participant in life as he overcomes the handicap of the illusions imposed on him. Finally, there emerges a new life, which symbolically represents hope for the nations future as a developed national entity.




End Notes:

[i] The following articles comment on Shevchuks political argument in general and his post-colonial argument in particular: Marko Pavlyshyn, Thaws, Literature and the Nationalities Discussion in Ukraine: The Prose of Valerii Shevchuk, in: Marko Pavlyshyn (ed.), Glasnost in Context: On the Recurrence of Liberalizations in Central and East European Literatures and Cultures (New York: Berg, 1990) 53, 65; Marko Pavlyshyn, "Mythological, Religious, and Philosophical Topoi in the Prose of Valerii Shevchuk," in: Slavic Review 50:4 (1991); Anna Berehulak, The Critical Aesthetic: Reappraisal of Ukrainian Literary History in the Works of Valerii Shevchuk, Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies 33 (May 1992).

[ii] See Pavlyshyns discussions of Shevchuks works in , : , : , 1997. In Ukrainian literary criticism such scholars as Mykola Zhulynskyi, Mykola Riabchuk, Hryhorii Klochek, Petro Andrusiv, Mykhailo Slaboshpytskyi, and Romana Bahrii (to mention just a few) have analyzed Shevchuks work. In recent years two dissertations were dedicated to different aspects of Shevchuks ouvre: -, , , 1999;   , - , , 2000. I was able to access only the abstracts of these theses.

[iii] See Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi.

[iv] Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi 908. This article also contains his analysis of topoi, symbolism, and imagery associated with the sacred and its restitution.

[v] Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi 907.

[vi] See , , in: , ,, hereafter , .

[vii] , part 1.

[viii] Ibid, part 1, p. 2.

[ix] Pavlyshyn discusses this literary sub-genre and its place in contemporary Ukrainian literature in the article, : , in: , , 82-97. He traces its roots to Kotliarevskyis Ineiida and Hohols Dikanka stories. Grabowicz defines chimerical prose as the Ukrainian version of the magic realism. The latter term was applied to the works of such contemporary writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Alejo Carpentier, to mention just the most prominent.

[x] , part 1, p.3.

[xi] Valerii Shevchuk, "Horbunka Zoia, Suchasnist` 3 (March, 1995). English translations of the citations from the text are mine.

[xii] See Pavlyshyn, Thaws 53.

[xiii] Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi 906.

[xiv] Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi 907.

[xv] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) 4.

[xvi] Irena R. Makaryk (ed.), Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory: Approaches, Scholars, Terms (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994) 3.

[xvii] Among the scholars who developed (circa1930-1950) archetypal literary criticismsometimes called myth criticismwere Joseph Campbell, Richard Chase, Northrop Frye, and others.

[xviii] Quoted from Joseph Campbell, The Hero 18.

[xix] Campbell, The Hero 18-19.

[xx] Campbell, The Hero 19.

[xxi] Campbell, The Hero 4.

[xxii] Cf. Pavlyshyns argument that, The language and imagery of Shevchuks works, both those that use supernatural motifs and those that do not, are pervaded by mythological topoi that present the restitution of the sacred. See Pavlyshyn, Shevchuks Topoi 908.

[xxiii] Self is another important Jungian term and archetype. It is directly related to the process of individuation, because of its concerns with the way the individual establishes himself or herself in the world. (Makaryk, 4)

[xxiv] For a discussion of non-resistance as a form of political conformity see Vclav Havel et al. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe (London: Hutchinson and Co., 1985).

[xxv] See C. G. Jung, Psyche and Symbol (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1958) 3.

[xxvi] In his doctrine, Jung juxtaposes illusions and rationalizations to self-knowledge and real understanding of the situation, and posits that the former impede the individuation process, thus barring the person from self-realization and from becoming a whole man. See Jung xxviii-xxix.

[xxvii] In his discussion of the archetype of the witch and its social acceptance, Grabowicz shows that witches did not differ from so-called ordinary women. See , part 1. While Shevchuk often endows his fictional witches with extraordinary features (e.g. Zoia, Snake-Woman) he also comments on the randomness of witch-hunt victims. The heroine of his short story about witch-hunt during the Inquisition, The Devil, who exists, or the One-Hundredth Witch (, , ), is an innocent woman who is charged with witchcraft, tortured, and executed only because her former servant decided to slander her. See: , , : , 1995, 19-44. Also see the monograph by Christine D. Worobec, Possessed: Women, Witches, and Demons in Imperial Russia, DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2001. This scholar discusses several historical cases of witch-hunt in Imperial Russia and concludes that individuals with hostile attitudes toward an accused usually laid charges of witchcraft. No one was protected from such accusations and all women were potential witches. (88)

[xxviii] See the articles Witch and Witchcraft in Barbara G. Walker, The Womans Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1983) 1077-1090; Worobec, Possessed, 86, 88, 95-97, 107; Shari L. Thurer, The Myths of Motherhood: How Culture Reinvents the Good Mother (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company) 1994.

[xxix] The hump was viewed just like birthmarks, warts, freckles or any skin blemishes, which provided incriminating evidence for the witch-hunters. On the other hand, women accused of witchcraft more often than not were no different from any other, ordinary women and the final judgment was left to the male prosecutors. See Worobec 97. Also see the bibliography in the two previous endnotes.

[xxx] An authority on Christian Late Antiquity, Peter Brown, posits that the patriarchal social order was readily legalized with the emergence and coming to power of the institution of Christian sainthood and draws the following parallel: ...his [holy mans] rise was a victory of men over women, who had been the previous guardians of the diffuse occult traditions of the neighborhood Peter Brown, "The Rise and function of the Holy Man in Late Antiquity," The Journal of Roman Studies, XI (1971) 100.

[xxxi] See Worobec 95, 97, 118.

[xxxii] Thurer 104, 140, 154-156; Worobec 107, 118.

[xxxiii] Cf. Shevchuks The One Hundredth Witch. In this short story Shevchuk portrays an independent, self-aware woman who is denounced as a witch yet who is not subdued by the Inquisition.

[xxxiv]  Jung 119.

[xxxv] Jung 119.

[xxxvi] Compare the readings of the symbolism of both the hunchback and the hump found in the entry Hunchback in Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery compiled by Ad de Vries. The first meaning offered here is supported by examples from W. B. Yeats usage of the term and interprets hunchback as (a). the opposite of Saint: loaded with the past he wants the Saint to take off his sins; (b). Bishop (in Crazy-Jane poems): fascinated with sin, sterile, deformed, malicious (Cf. our argument about hunchback as a demonic creature within the Christian worldview). The second part of the same entry proposes another symbolic meaning of the hunchback as a question mark. This interpretation of the hunchback is supported by the citation from D. Thomas work Altarwise: "Questions are hunchbacks to the poker marrow." The composite parts of this expression are deciphered in the following way: (a). the poker-marrow stands for spine, penis, bone of life and death; (b). the poker-marrow carries the burden of an embryonic hump; (c). question-marks are hunchbacks to a straight, conventional life; (d). the questions are hindrances to the life-force. This symbolic reading of the hunchback supports Zoias meanings as an adversary of the patriarchal world and as an incarnation of questions about its legitimacy, validity, and nature. See Ad de Vries, Dictionary of Symbols (Amsterdam-London: North-Holland Publishing Company, 1974) 264.

[xxxvii] See Mircea Eliade, Symbolism, the Sacred, and the Arts (New York: Crossroad, 1986) 4. Here we read: Flight (always associated with a witch) translates as intelligence, comprehension of secret things or metaphysical truths. If one considers flight and all its parallel symbolism in its totality, their significance is immediately disclosed: all translate as a rupture effected in the universe of daily existence. The double intentionality of this rupture is evident: we gain at once both transcendence and freedom through flight.

[xxxviii] Eliade 4.

[xxxix] Significantly, in Christian iconography both Death and Life are often allegorically represented by female figures positioned on both sides of the crucifixion. Moreover, Zoias name translates from Greek as life. Another possible interpretation of Zoias name can be deduced from the congruence of the names Sophia and Zoia found in the case of the last Byzantine princess. Indeed, while the baptismal name of Sophia Palaiologina (Paleolog) (1450-1503) was Zoia, she took the name Sophia after marrying Ivan III of Moscow; hence, the parallel between the names Sophia and Zoia. Since the Kyivan St. Sophia Cathedral is considered to be one of Ukraines most important symbols, it is possible to posit that Zoia also can be viewed as a symbol of her countryor rather an agent acting on its behalf.

[xl] For a discussion of the meaning and symbols of initiation see Campbell 97-192; Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion (New York:  Harcourt, 1959).

[xli] Eliade, Symbolism 12.

[xlii] Jung 122.

[xliii] See Pavlyshyn's interpretation of the mythological topos of the circle and mandala in Shevchuks oeuvre in Shevchuks Topoi 908; also see interpretation of mandala by Jung in Jung 225.

[xliv] Jung 130.

[xlv] Jung 122.

[xlvi] Jung 130.

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