Grossman, Everything Flows Study Questions

General Study Questions

  1. Discuss the Judas chapter (chapter seven).   In addressing its significance, consider, for example, the different scenarios for the four Judases presented.  Under what circumstances did each betray others?  What were their motivations?  What were the mitigating circumstances, if they can be seen as that?  In presenting this chapter, is Grossman trying to force us to see these people more sympathetically?  Are we meant to see merit in any of the defenses offered?  Finally, going beyond this chapter specifically, how does the novel elsewhere address questions of guilt and responsibility for those who participated in the Soviet State’s repression?
  2. Comment on Ivan Grigoryevich’s attempts to re-acclimate himself to life outside the camps.  What issues does he face?  What are his reflections on making this adjustment?  To what extent are those thirty years in the camps still with him? 
  3. Discuss Anna’s description of the Ukrainian famine in chapter fourteen.  In addition to consideration of the conditions she describes, also address her motivation and participation, as well as that of others, that we are able to surmise from her narrative.   Anna questions at a couple points in the chapter whether Stalin ordered the famine directly and explicitly or even knew the extent of the famine that occurred there.  What appears to be Grossman’s view, and perhaps also Ivan’s, when he references the famine later in the novel?  Finally, at the end of the chapter, she wonders whether, in the end, “no one will be held to account,” and “it will all just be forgotten without a trace” (138).  To what extent and in what way has history answered these questions?
  4. Discuss the theme of anti-Semitism as it arises recurrently over the course of the novel.  I have addressed this topic briefly in the annotation for page 5, but it’s obviously an important motif, as many of the characters Grossman creates as well as the historical figures he mentions are or were Jewish.  What does Grossman seem to be suggesting regarding anti-Semitism in relation to the Soviet State?  To Russia?
  5. A good deal of the novel addresses those who are fervent supporters of the Soviet Union only to end up as its victims, often continuing that support even after becoming its victims.  How does Grossman represent this phenomenon?  How does the narrator and/or Ivan view it?   Consider especially the chapters in the second half of the novel, chapters eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, that focus on the generation of the Revolution and the Civil War.
  6. When describing Soviet mass atrocity of the first half of the 20th century, almost all writers focus, understandably, on Stalin.  Ivan focuses mostly on Lenin.  Why?  What does he stress about Lenin?  Consider not only the extended discussion we read in chapter twenty one but also the view of Russian history presented in chapter twenty two. 
  7. Putting aside the question of the novel’s unfinished status, address the issue of narration, both in terms of structure and point of view.  For example, consider the effect of the sequencing of some of the chapters; of the insertion of the vignettes of Masha, the Karpenkos, and Mekler; the difficulty at times of determining whether we are reading the narrator’s words or the thoughts of Ivan.  In the case of the latter, do you think the blurring of the line is intentional, and if so, why?


Specific Study Questions

Chapter One

  1. What does the construction superintendent say about the law and life (5)?  What are the potential outcomes?
  2. Though Ivan is not yet named and identified, how do the other passengers seem to view and treat him (the thin old man)?
  3. What realization does he have at the end of the chapter?

Chapter Two

  1. What does Nikolai say that Ivan will find upon his return?
  2. What are Nikolai’s reflections on page 11?

Chapter Three

  1. What does Nikolai think about his life and career in terms of luck, or lack thereof?  Does this seem borne out by the “facts” we come to learn?
  2. What has happened to several of Nikolai’s (former) colleagues?
  3. What does he think of the Jews’ belief, according to him, in “some grand State [anti-Semitic] plan” (17)?
  4. What is “frightening” to think about (19)?
  5. What does Professor Margolin and Nikolai’s conversation reveal (21-2)?
  6. What has been the consequence of all of these events for Nikolai’s own career?
    What seems to be Nikolai’s view regarding all of these developments?
  7. What does the narrator observe about “this upsurge of spontaneous fury” (24)?
    What examples are then given?
  8. What are some of the different reactions to Stalin’s death?
  9. What impact does Stalin’s death have Nikolai’s view of the State, of himself?
  10. What are Nikolai’s reflections about his own guilt, his doubt, his faith, his obedience (29-31)?
  11. What seems to have led to Ivan’s arrest(s) (34)?

Chapter Four

  1. What do you think is the burden that Ivan feels (38)?
  2. Why does Nikolai neither “confess,” as he says he wanted to, nor “knock some sense” (39) into Ivan?  What does he in fact say?
  3. What does Nikolai explain about the new ideology that has emerged while Ivan has been in the camps (42-3)?
  4. What does Nikolai say about his own life during this period?
  5. How do you think each of these characters comes away from this reunion feeling?

Chapter Five

  1. What does Ivan’s father say about progress (48)?  What is the fate of the Circassians?
  2. What is the one thing Russia, for 1,000 years, has never seen (49)?
  3. What overwhelming feeling does Ivan have when he awakens in the train?

Chapter Six

  1. Upon returning to Leningrad, what does he say about his memory of Anya?  Of Leningrad?
  2. What reflections does Ivan have upon encountering the statue of Peter the Great?
  3. Discuss Ivan’s encounter with Pinegin.  What are some of the latter’s thoughts?

Chapter Seven

Please also see the general study question that refers to this chapter.

  1. Comment on the statement regarding Judas III that “he couldn’t not believe” (64).
  2. Comment on the statement that “It is a terrible thing to condemn even a terrible man” (64).
  3. What do the Informers say about freedom of choice (66)?
  4. What is the gist of the first (67) and second (69-70) arguments that the Defense Counsel offers?
    What does he say is the “most terrible thing” (70)?   Does this seem accurate?
  5. Should the final sentence of this chapter be ascribed to the Defense Counsel or to the narrator?
    What is the implication of choosing one or the other?

Chapter Eight

  1. Think about the sequencing of these chapters—Ivan encounters the man who betrayed him, then we have the chapter about different “Judases,” and then we return to Pinegin.  Do we look at him any differently after reading chapter seven, or does reading chapter eight lead us to reconsider anything from chapter seven?

 Chapter Nine

  1. What does Ivan note about many older camp inmates he encountered?
  2. With what thought does he conclude the chapter?

Chapter Ten

  1. Why does Anna not receive a pension as the wife of a soldier who died in the war?
  2. Where does Ivan find work, and who are some of his co-workers?
  3. What does Mordan’s anecdote suggest about ordinary Soviet life (80-1)?
  4. How does Anna depict life on the collective farms? 
  5. How does Ivan respond to the question she poses to him (84)?

Chapter Eleven

  1. What does Ivan note about the Russian earth on page 87 (also see the annotation)?
  2. What does Ivan think about people who are “free” compared to those he had seen in the camps?
  3. What are some of the thoughts of people sent to the camps despite not having done anything wrong?
  4. What differences does he observe between people in the camps and those living in freedom?
  5. Comment on the conclusion to this chapter.

Chapter Twelve

  1. What does Ivan say has truly revealed the equality of women and men?
  2. Comment on the sentence that concludes the chapter.

Chapter Thirteen

  1. Why do you think this chapter is presented as standalone vignette rather than, say, clearly presented as a story that Ivan heard during his time in the camps (it might be, but Grossman makes no attempt to make this explicit)? 
  2. Discuss the inclusion of this female perspective, coming after a chapter that reflected on the separation of men and women in the camps. 
  3. Why is Masha arrested and sentenced to prison?
  4. What does the narrator say about hope (112)?  What then happens to Masha?
  5. What does Ivan conclude at the end of the chapter? 
  6. What do you find are some of the most notable aspects of Masha’s story?

Chapter Fourteen

Please also see the general study question that refers to this chapter.
I also recommend that, before reading this chapter, you read the short “Note” on pages 227-231 about the Ukrainian famine. 

  1. The chapter opens with a rather moving testament by Ivan to Anna’s kindness.  Why?  Can we still believe this after we read what follows?  If so, what does that suggest about those, or at least some, who aided the State?
  2. How does Anna describe dekulakization (116-7)?
  3. What does she say about party activists and evil (117-8)?
  4. Why does Anna herself become an activist (118-9)?
  5. What comparison is drawn to the Holocaust (119)?
  6. Anna says that she “learned about everything that was done there” (124).  Why do you think Grossman includes this comment, and the ones that follow?
  7. How does she describe the “logic” of blaming the peasants for their failure to meet quotas (124-5)?
  8. How does she contrast the Ukrainian famine with famines that occurred during the Tsars’ rule (129)?
  9. What does the visit of the minister from France reveal (132)?
  10. What are conditions like in Kiev (134-5)?  What have some from the countryside attempted to do?
  11. To what extent is she correct that “no one will be held to account,” that “it will all just be forgotten without a trace” (138)?

Chapter Fifteen

  1. Following the chapter we have just read, what is the significance of this short vignette of what is likely a typical Ukrainian peasant family?

Chapter Sixteen

  1. What conclusion does Ivan reach following the quashed investigation into corruption in the town (144)?

Chapter Seventeen

  1. Now that Anna has gone to the hospital and will soon die there, what does Ivan hope to try to do (146)?

Chapter Eighteen

  1. How does Ivan describe the people killed in the purges from 1936-9, “the destroyers of the old world” (151-2) and “the first builders” (152-3)?
  2. What irony does he point out about the State created by Lenin and Stalin (153)?
  3. What generation fills the prisons during the Great Terror of 1937 (154)?

Chapter Nineteen

  1. What distinguishes Mekler’s “service to the Revolution” (158)?
  2. What extended metaphor does the narrator use to describe Mekler’s continuing devotion to the Revolution?

Chapter Twenty

  1. How does Ivan (Grossman?) describe the Bolshevik generation?  What legacy does this generation accept (162)?
  2. What generation replaces the generation of the Revolution?
  3. What, with “tragic clarity,” has the Soviet State sacrificed (164)?

Chapter Twenty One

Please also see the general study question that refers, at least in part, to this chapter.

  1. What does Ivan stress about the Russian revolutionary movement throughout its history (168)?
  2. What does he stress about Lenin’s treatment of opponents (171)?  About his ultimate objective (172)?
  3. What is Ivan’s view of the complexity of Lenin’s character (172-3)?

Chapter Twenty Two

  1. What does Ivan say has been a constant feature of Russian history (175)?
  2. What did “Russia’s most powerful minds” fail to see (176)?
  3. By what process does Ivan suggest that Western ideals of freedom, democracy, and human dignity become perverted and transformed in twentieth-century Russia (177-8)?
  4. What abyss divides Russia and the West (179)?
  5. What does Ivan emphasize about the eras of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great (180)?
  6. What aspect of Russian history did Lenin preserve (181)?
  7. What “bewitching simplicity” of Lenin’s path has been tragically followed elsewhere in the world (182)?
  8. Does Ivan suggest that what has happened to Russia was inevitable?  That it was innately or uniquely Russian (183)?
  9. Have the final questions this chapter poses been answered, some sixty years after Ivan asks them and over fifty after Grossman wrote them?

Chapter Twenty Three

  1. What does Ivan say about the possible successors to Lenin who in fact would become victims (187)?

Chapter Twenty Four

  1. What finds its expression in Stalin (190)?
  2. How does he differ from, or perhaps expand upon, Lenin?
  3. What three figures are combined in Stalin (191)?
  4. What conclusions does Ivan make about Stalinist violence from 1930-37 (194)?
  5. What dream of Colonel Sudeikin does Stalin realize (196)?
  6. How does Ivan answer the question of why the “elaborate theater” of the Great Terror was necessary (197)?

Chapter Twenty Five

  1. What does Ivan, as well as the narrator, suggest about the future (199-200)?
  2. Given all that Ivan as well as Grossman have seen and experienced, is their enduring faith in humanity at all surprising?  Consider this also in terms of the debate that occurs in the next chapter.

Chapter Twenty Six

  1. What is Aleksey Samoilovich’s view of history, humanity?
  2. Why does Ivan not give in to Aleksey’s arguments?  What ironically restores his faith in freedom?

Chapter Twenty Seven

  1. What does Ivan think about those who have mistreated him?  About people in general (207-8)?
  2. Can we really believe the narrator that, after all he has endured, Ivan is “unchanged” (208)?  If so, in what respect(s)?

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