The Man in the Black Leather Coat
Panopticism and Historical Fiction
There are many fictional depictions of the Soviet Union. However, fiction is not constrained by the same evidentiary requirements as history. In order to determine how Soviet state security is portrayed in fiction, it must be examined through a lens that understands surveillance. This work deploys a panoptic analysis of four contemporary novels that depict Soviet history: Child 44, The Secret Speech, Agent 6, and City of Thieves.
Panoptic analysis revealed three categories of surveillance. Apparatus of the Panopticon applies to data that describes the Soviet surveillance system as well as the agents and practices that enabled its function. Submission to the Panopticon categorizes descriptions of how characters altered their behavior to avoid conflict with state security. Subversion of the Panopticon labels descriptions of resistance to constant surveillance. By categorizing data into three groups, it became clear that fiction does reveal a distinct image of state security. The panoptic analysis of four novels displayed a dynamic between citizens and state security that is thematically consistent with historical scholarship. All four novels characterized the Soviet Union as a panoptic state where government surveillance rendered resistance efforts futile.