Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray

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Josef Stalin Symbol Icon

Though Stalin is never actually seen or heard from throughout the novel, his presence nevertheless looms behind every scene. It is Josef Stalin who annexes Lithuania as part of the Soviet Union, and it is he who orders the NKVD to deport anyone considered to have committed “anti-Soviet” activities. This is how Lina, her family, and the rest of the deportees come to essentially become slaves to the Soviet state. Out of all the characters, Lina in particular is vocal about her hatred towards the new leader who has caused the destruction of both her country and her life. Stalin becomes the looming evil behind the tangible torture committed by the guards. His inescapable presence throughout the novel is what makes his representation even more oppressive, since Lina derives all her misery from his rise to power and every subsequent misfortune that befalls the Vilkases. Furthermore, the epilogue points out that unlike with the fall of the Nazis after the Holocaust, the Soviet Union continued to maintain power after the end of World War II, thus rendering all former prisoners of the camps silent. The suffocating presence of Stalin, Communism, and the Soviet Union is what pushes Lina to document her deportation.

Josef Stalin Quotes in Between Shades of Gray

The Between Shades of Gray quotes below all refer to the symbol of Josef Stalin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Speak edition of Between Shades of Gray published in 2012.
Chapter 30 Quotes

“Jonas,” said Mother, stroking my brother’s face. “I can’t trust them. Stalin has told the NKVD that Lithuanians are the enemy. The commander and the guards look at us as beneath them. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Lina Vilkas (speaker), Elena Vilkas (speaker), Jonas Vilkas
Related Symbols: Josef Stalin
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Once they arrive at the labor camp, the NKVD order Elena to go speak to the commander in the barracks. They do not let Jonas and Lina inside the building with her. When Elena emerges, she takes them back to the shack before telling them that the NKVD asked her to help translate Lithuanian into Russian for them. They also wanted her to spy on other deportees for them. In exchange, they promised her preferential treatment.

In this quote, Elena explains to Jonas that it is doubtful that the NKVD would have actually given her extra food or other resources in exchange for acting as a traitor to her own people. She is a prisoner under the NKVD for a reason, and that reason is that they see her a “fascist pig,” less than human, as decreed by Stalin. This wouldn’t change if she put aside her morals to work for them—it would only make her feel worse about her current situation. Here, Elena teaches Lina and Jonas a valuable lesson about preserving their dignity and keeping their heads high, even in the face of incredible adversity.

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Josef Stalin Symbol Timeline in Between Shades of Gray

The timeline below shows where the symbol Josef Stalin appears in Between Shades of Gray. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...man asks Lina what she thinks of the “new Lithuania.” Lina announces that she thinks Stalin, who had recently annexed Lithuania, is a “bully.” Kostas tells her that that’s enough, and... (full context)
Chapter 13
Genocide Theme Icon
...he looked fine. She asks Elena why they are being deported, and Elena says that Stalin wants Lithuania for the Soviets, and that similar processes are likely happening in Latvia, Estonia,... (full context)
Chapter 24
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
In a flashback, Lina recalls Kostas finding a caricature Lina drew of Stalin such that he was wearing a clown suit. Kostas and his friends with whom he... (full context)
Chapter 28
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...guards. Lina recalls Kostas explaining the tenets of Communism to her—where everything is owned by Stalin and rationed out to the people. Lina realizes she is on a kolkhoz, a collective... (full context)
Chapter 36
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...home base. The room they are placed in has portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin on the walls. The commander says (through Elena’s translation) that the deportees have been brought... (full context)
Chapter 42
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
...in town. Everyone longs for news about the war. They hear that Hitler has pushed Stalin out of Lithuania, but have no idea what this means for the future of the... (full context)
Morality, Integrity, and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
The Power of Art Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
Women and Mothers Theme Icon
...listening to Kostas and his friends speak about politics in hushed voices. They argue whether Stalin or Hitler is worse. Worried about her daughter overhearing upsetting things, Elena orders Lina to... (full context)
Chapter 45
Genocide Theme Icon
...hell, and Jonas replies that he was repeating something his father had said: that if Stalin came to Lithuania, that’s where they would all end up. (full context)
Chapter 46
Strength and Identity Theme Icon
Genocide Theme Icon
...killing the Jews, and this makes people upset. Despite the harsh reality of Hitler and Stalin, Elena is elated by any news of Lithuania. (full context)