Thursday, May 10, 2012

Omon Ra and Freedom

Omon Ra is about aspiration and ambition. Throughout the novel, Pelevin links Omon’s aspiration of becoming a cosmonaut with the Soviet Union’s ambition to transition from an oppressive republic to a more free and democratic one.
            On pages 8 and 9, Omon realizes that “only weightlessness could give man genuine freedom . . . in my heart, of course, I loathed a state whose silent menace obliged every individual who came together to imitate zealously the vilest and bawdiest individual among them . . . I realized that peace and freedom were unattainable on earth.”
            This passage establishes the linkage between freedom within the state and Omon’s desire to fly. With this link established, Pelevin uses it to comment on the state’s ambition for freedom. At every turn, Omon’s ambition for the freedom of flight is met with opposition that suggests the freedom typically associated with flight is a myth and freedom can’t be achieved.
At his flight camp, Omon encounters a poster depicting a child just like himself who aspires to flight. Upon reaching his goal of space travel in the final panel of the poster, Omon describes his eyes as “filled with some inexpressible anguish.” Immediately following this passage, we get a description of a small toy rocket ship which was built around it’s pilot with no exits as if it were a prison.
These two scenes, combined with Omon’s own story in which his ambition for space travel only brings him to an anonymous, quiet death inside a spaceship described as a tin saucepan, suggest quite strongly that even in the greatest fantasies of freedom and glory there is nothing to be found but anonymity and imprisonment.
Given that this novel was written just after Glasnost, we should question how much Pelevin’s perspective on Omon’s ambitions for glory and freedom applies to the Soviet Union’s ambition for the same things. It is, at the very least, possible that Pelevin views Perestroika and Glasnost somewhat ambivalently and recognizes that the freedom and openness they are expected to bring may very well be a myth.


  1. Good point, Chris. I've been very surprised at the pessimism in Omon Ra, especially considering that it was written in 1992--a time I assume would lead to a great deal of optimism about the future of Russia.

  2. Yeah! There is a moment when Omon compares people with stars that is in line with what you wrote about. He says that a star's "...movement through space...[is] predetermined and subject to the laws of mechanics, which leave no hope at all for any chance encounters" much like humans spend their "...lives journeying towards what we call the light, although its source may have ceased to exist long ago" (112).

  3. I wonder if part of the mixture of pessimism and talk of freedom is related to the actual act of space travel itself, which must have weighed on Pelevin's mind writing this novel. To some degree, you are above and beyond the Earth, but at another level you are taking the Earth with you in the shuttle, and in yourself. And there is no leaving a shuttle either, really, space isn't something you can walk out into. And so, the freedom and openness really are a myth, I think, in some ways. But it's a very different lack of freedom and openness too than the lack on Earth. Maybe Pelevin thinks of Perestroika in similar terms? As a new kind of lack of freedom and openness. If you take it that way, it's not entirely pessimistic, maybe?

  4. Perhaps the novel is an allegory for the failure of the USSR, at least a little bit. The dream failed.

    1. I view the book exactly the same way, Drew: the dream failed. But, "the train carried me off into a new life." (p. 154) There is new beginning, new hope here, at the end of the novel.

  5. Reading your post, I realized just how much foreshadowing there is in the novel. It is funny though, because until you have read the novel, you really don't see it. In fact, it almost makes me want to read through it again.

  6. I feel like the loneliness and isolation are a malignant extension of the escapism that I feel Omon was going for. Yes, he had aspirations, but I felt it was all under the guise of escapism, and the isolation he feels seems to be an unexpected consequence of that escapism.