Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

While The Bedbug was in rehearsal, newspaper reports quoted Mayakovsky to the effect that the play’s central problem is “unmasking the bourgeoisie of today.” That statement is not the whole story, however. While it describes the first four scenes set in contemporary times (the late 1920’s), it does not adequately describe the ambiguity of the last five scenes set in “the future,” 1979.

To understand Mayakovsky’s formulation of the play’s problem, some historical background is necessary. Like many supporters of the 1917 Revolution, Mayakovsky expected a workers’ socialist state to replace the overthrown Czarist state. While the comparative handful of aristocrats could be exiled, imprisoned, or executed, the workers’ state would have to incorporate the much larger middle-class or bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, the bourgeoisie possessed unproletarian values: It shared the aristocracy’s penchant for opulence and material possessions. Lenin’s attempt to break the bourgeoisie during the Civil War (1918-1920) by radical measures was not successful. In 1921 Lenin announced a New Economic Policy (NEP), which permitted some forms of capitalism and private ownership. To revolutionary purists, the NEP was a concession to the antisocialist values of the bourgeoisie. In 1928 the NEP was itself abrogated by the first of the five-year plans, which reasserted the authority of the state in all economic matters.

The first part of the play holds up to ridicule those who—like the Renaissance family and Oleg—still aspire to middle-class ideals in a socialist society. It also satirizes, in the character of Ivan, those Communist Party members who forget their proletarian origins and adopt bourgeois ambitions. Ivan’s buying...

(The entire section is 720 words.)