Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alienation, a theme in several of Nathan Englander’s stories, is also evident in “The Twenty-seventh Man.” The title reflects the plight of an individual; however, twenty-six others were also caught up in the Stalinist purge of Jewish writers. Although alienation usually refers to the struggle of an individual against others, the twenty-seven men are emblematic of the alienation of Jewish people in Russian society.

Another theme in this story is the struggle of the individual against society. It is pointed out that Stalin ordered the murder of the Jewish writers not because he hated them but because he questioned their loyalty. Those arrested wrote in the Yiddish language rather than in Russian. The government of a society whose members refer to one another as comrades apparently had difficulty accepting any thoughts that are not the party line.

The twenty-seven Jewish writers are identified as one unit because they are all intellectuals criticizing various issues. Although Korinsky wrote positively about Stalin’s government, he was still identified among the Jewish dissident writers. The free, creative thinking of Zunser, Bretzky, and other Jewish writers was threatening to Stalin’s government. The influence of the Jewish writers is reflected in Pinchas’s reaction at his arrest: He thinks that merely reading Zunser is enough to justify his arrest.

Even in the inhumane setting of the prison cell, the incarcerated...

(The entire section is 512 words.)