The main character and protagonist is Kostoglotov. He is the only one in the novel to challenge societal norms. He argues with everyone, even the fe-male doctors whom he finds attractive. Having endured the cruelty of Soviet labor camps and the isolation of exile, he has toughened himself to the worst aspects of his native land, aspects his fellow patients and doctors scarcely recognize. An exception is Shulubin, another patient, who toward the end of the novel confesses that he has allowed himself to be cowed by the tyranny of the state. More than once he comes to Kostoglotov’s aid in arguments with the smug Rusanov, who thinks nothing of informing on colleagues who have not, in his view, measured up to the high ideals of the Soviet state.
Dr. Gangart is enormously attracted by Kostoglotov’s iconoclasm, even as she is puzzled by his seeming intractability. She comes to realize, however, that Kostoglotov is trying to remain his own man and to think and act and feel for himself. That is why he is horrified when he learns that the injections prescribed for him will take away his sexual drive. He does not want hormone treatments that will deprive him of the very desires that make him a man. Zoya, a sensitive and highly competent nurse, is won over by Kostoglotov and decides not to give him the injections. Kostoglotov is not, however, without his faults or without a certain foolishness, as when he believes that he can cure his cancer with a mandrake...
(The entire section is 474 words.)