Between Shades of Gray Major Character Analysis

Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

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Between Shades of Gray Major Character Analysis

Lina Vilkas

Lina Vilkas is the narrator of the novel.  It is through her perspective that we experience the Soviet genocide of Lithuanians, as she serves as a witness to many atrocities and experiences the loss of both her parents. She is fifteen years old when the novel begins and, over the next several years in Soviet custody, is forced to grow up much faster and confront much more horrific truths about humankind than most people do in a lifetime.

The novel is also Lina’s “coming-of-age” story.  As a teenager, she is already in the process of becoming an adult, and over the course of the novel, she falls in love, becomes a mother-figure to her younger brother and Janina, and, most importantly, is able to empathize with the one person she believes she hates the most—Nikolai Kretzsky.

The book is also about Lina’s development as an artist.  Though she is already talented and accomplished before the Vilkas’s deportation to Siberia, her experiences in Siberia give new purpose to her art: where she has always clearly felt compelled to draw; now she feels compelled to draw and to bear witness—to leave a record of the history the Soviets would rather erase.  She also gains new appreciation for the aesthetic of her favorite artist, Edvard Munch, whose anguished work is an apt forebear to the horrors of the Baltic genocide.

Jonas Vilkas 

Jonas Vilkas is Lina’s younger brother.  Like his sister, he also has to grow up much faster and confront more about the brutality of human beings than most children.  Jonas comes close to death twice in the novel.  It is often the thought of his survival that motivates Lina, from the first night they are taken, when “the sound of ten-year-old brother running about his room pulled a cord within” (26) her, to the question Lina asks herself after her mother dies—what would Jonas do if Lina also died?

Like any little brother, Jonas sometimes antagonizes his sister or makes her life more difficult and he sometimes participates in questionable activities—such as their joint questioning of their mother’s relation to the NKVD guard…

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