Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798
No. 402: the man who is being held in the cell next to Rubashov's
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Richard: a Party leader in a south German town who was expelled from the Party by Rubashov
Rubashov returns to pacing his cell and thinks about what the officer thinks of him. He looks out the window at the prison yard, which except for its path is covered with slightly frozen snow. Then he hears tapping from No. 402. Rubashov and No. 402 begin using the quadratic alphabet to talk to each other. Rubashov tells No. 402 his identity and receives a contemptuous reply. No. 402 refuses to say who he is, but Rubashov guesses that he is a counter-revolutionary officer from his proclamation, "LONG LIVE H.M. THE EMPEROR!" Rubashov explains that "POLITICAL DIVERGENCIES" have put him in prison, and he provides some of the details of the supposed last time he slept with a woman.
No. 402 pleads for details of that experience, but Rubashov, prompted by the shape of No. 407's hands as he received his bread, recalls a painting of the Madonna and the art museum he first saw it in. This causes him to suddenly remember a meeting in southern Germany. He forgets No. 402 as he recalls that the meeting took place in 1933, when the Party's survival in the country was in serious doubt and its members struggled to escape capture. Rubashov met Richard, the town's Party leader, in an art gallery. Richard told him his wife, who was having an affair with his friend, a cinema operator, was arrested last night. Richard told him the list of local Party members, many of whom are dead or missing, and Rubashov set out to lecture Richard on his work. He told Richard that he failed to gain Party approval for the printed material Richard distributed and failed to distribute the official Party material as well.
Richard defended himself by saying that he had to adapt his material to the bleak local conditions. Therefore he admitted the difficulties the Party faced and called for a resulting change in policy. Rubashov rejected Richard's justification for this approach by saying that the Party's course must be followed without deviation. He informed Richard of his expulsion from the Party, and a frightened Richard followed Rubashov outside. Rubashov departs in a taxi, leaving Richard standing on the curb, and boarded a train at the station. Rubashov was arrested a week after taking the train.
Rubashov's "fatal constraint" of looking through the eyes of the officer points to the novel's recurring focus: the Party pays no mind to concerns of sympathy or individual understanding. Instead, the Party is intent on maintaining revolutionary discipline and working toward its goals. In this light, the petty arrogance of a man like Rubashov is worse than worthless: it is intolerable. The tapping conversation with No. 406 shows how Rubashov has trained himself to decipher the traits and character of men from just a few words, an ability that surely served him well in his Party glory days. Now that talent is used to stifle the overwhelming isolation the prison attempts to create.
No. 402's desire to be told about the woman Rubashov last slept with shows that in the prison, high ideals are less important than basic physical satisfaction. This fact seems to prompt Rubashov to recall No. 407's hands receiving the bread, which leads directly to the memory of a painting of the Madonna with similarly pleading hands. This depiction was in the south German museum in which he told Richard of his dismissal from the Party. In doing this, Rubashov rejected Richard's pleas for mercy, though he was fully aware that the dismissal would leave Richard vulnerable to being killed by the Nazis. So a link is created between Richard, Rubashov's cruelty to Richard, prisoner No. 407, and Rubashov's current vulnerability at the hands of the Party.
The reason that Rubashov was sent to foreign countries was to help spread Party doctrine. Again, this is based on historical fact. The Soviet Communist Party attempted to promote and support similar movements in other countries to create Communist governments. Rubashov's duties as a Party member will include two trips to Europe intended to assist this effort by the Soviet Communist Party, which is frequently referred to as the goal of exporting Communism from the Party homeland of the Soviet Union into foreign countries. This goal brought the Soviet Communist Party into conflict with the Fascist countries of Germany and Italy. Fascist governments opposed the idea of abolishing private property and tended to focus on the interests of their own countries without being concerned about exporting Fascism to other countries. Both of these elements helped put Fascism into conflict with Communism. Additionally, the Fascist governments opposed Communism because Communism threatened to overthrow the Fascist governments.