The presentation of Stalin as a person in ‘Sashenka’ contrasts with that of the Soviet scheme and system of fear that he ran to portray the common view of the dictator according to the view of contemporary public in the USSR.
The terror of the 1930s under Soviet control is never attributed directly to Stalin himself in the novel, in the same way that he would not have been openly blamed by citizens of the USSR at the time, for fear of suffering the same ordeal that they were associating him with. This suppression through fear is also presented through Sashenka’s job editing a Soviet magazine, which produces propaganda in support of the political system, and censoring any writing portraying it honestly. When she is presented with an article highlighting the negative aspects of a Soviet orphanage she explains that ‘the Party Committee would denounce’ the author and send them to a Gulag – one of the labor camps run under Stalin where ‘enemies of the people’ would be sent and forced to work tirelessly, tortured and often killed. In spite of the brutality applied through Stalinism Sashenka believes that ‘Comrade Stalin knows’ that she is innocent and maintains her devoted admiration and reverence of him throughout her suffering in the prison at the hands of his workers.
Stalin’s image was seen as incorruptible and his reputation as a good leader undoubtable from within the Communist party and Sashenka’s genuine belief in his virtue despite the knowledge of what was happening to innocent people under his instruction emphasises the extent to which his authoritarianism stretched, not just preventing people from voicing their negative opinions against Stalin, but indoctrinating them to convince them that his system was just. This conditioning influence did not end entirely after his death, or even the breakdown of the USSR as the final section of the novel, set in 1994, shows people still wary to investigate and expose the faults of Stalinism.
Contrary to the cruelness of his regime, Stalin is presented as personable and charming face-to-face. His likeable personality contradicts the inhumanity of his policies to create an enigmatic and intimidating leading figure who cannot be challenged, incorporating a political concept as well as an affable individual as a respectable figurehead of the Soviet system and for Communism.