In a State Department store in Tambov, a central Russian town, in 1929, Ivan Prisypkin (otherwise known as Pierre Skripkin), a former Party member, former worker, and now the fiancé of Elzevir Davidovna Renaissance, accompanies her mother, Rosalie Pavlovna, and a neighboring house owner, Oleg Bard, on a shopping spree in preparation for the wedding. Salespeople are hawking their wares, and Prisypkin is buying everything because his house must be like a horn of plenty and his future children must be brought up to be refined. His future mother-in-law worries about splurging, while Bard supports Prisypkin’s extravagance, pointing out, clearly in jest, that the triumph of the victorious proletarian class must be symbolized by a ravishing, elegant, and class-conscious wedding. Prisypkin comes face-to-face with Zoya Beryozkina, his former girlfriend, who demands an explanation for the shopping spree and, more important, for his abandoning her. “Our love is liquidated,” he proclaims, using a current official phrase mockingly, while Rosalie calls her a pregnant slut. A militiaman finally breaks up the confrontation.
In a hostel for young workers, there is lively talk about Prisypkin’s impending wedding and about the thorough change of his behavior. One of the workers, looking for his boots, is told that Prisypkin took them—for the last time, he swore—to impress his fiancé. They all criticize Prisypkin’s betrayal of his class, making fun of his awkward attempts to act like a member of high society. They also make fun of his mother-in-law, saying that her breasts weigh eighty pounds each. Some workers, however, chastise their colleagues for jealousy, noting that most of them would do the same thing if they had a chance.
Prisypkin shows up in brand-new shoes and tosses back the pair of worn-out boots he “borrowed.” The workers turn their backs to him, making all kinds of derisive gestures and performing mocking dances. Bard advises Prisypkin to ignore these vulgar manifestations, complaining that a man of great talent has no elbow room in Russia, what with capitalist encirclement and the building of socialism happening simultaneously in one country (again mocking common official phrases). Instead,...
(The entire section is 911 words.)