Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 919
Wassilij, the porter formerly called Vassilij, is read the newspaper account of Rubashov's trial by his daughter, Vera. The newspaper informs its audience that Rubashov pled guilty to all points and repented his crime. He also gave an account of his path from opposing the Party to betraying the Fatherland, and was questioned regarding his shameful lies that led to Arlova's execution. Wassilij thinks about Rubashov's past triumphs as the newspaper article is read to him. Vera insists, over Wassilij's protest, that Rubashov is a traitor. She adds that her cell secretary asked about Wassilij's relationship with Rubashov. Vera returns to reading the article as her father sips some tea. Wassilij comments that "'the Party has taught you all to be cunning'" rather than decent, and Vera reads the article's conclusion. The Public Prosecutor demanded "'that all these mad dogs be shot.'" Kieffer, also known as Hare-lip, unsuccessfully begged for mercy, and Rubashov gave his final speech. In it, he declared that he was dying for nothing, that he was paying, and that he was dying without pride.
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Rubashov, walking in his cell, awaits his execution. He feels peaceful and quiet, a feeling which began before his final speech at the trial, as he looked over the audience and saw a mass of indifferent and derisory faces. Rubashov taps the code for "I" on the wall he shares with cell No. 406, which is now empty after Rip van Winkle left it. This tapping makes him wonder if the Revolution was justifiable if it caused individuals to suffer even as it improved the lot of the broader population. Rubashov ponders that the Party had "denied the free will of the individual—and at the same time it exacted his willing self-sacrifice." This and other contradictions put forth by the Party do not make sense, and yet Rubashov has spent forty years serving the Party. He wonders if "the Revolution had come too early" and if another revolution will arise sometime in the distant future which would manage to respect both the individual and the masses rather than respect only the individual or only the masses.
Rubashov begins to hear drumming from the distance and hears the message from No. 402 that Hare-lip is being taken and sends his greetings. Hare-lip passes in front of Rubashov, who sees him through the judas-eye. No. 402 asks Rubashov how he feels, and Rubashov replies that he wants it all over with. Rubashov mentions that if he were pardoned, he would study astronomy. As Rubashov sees a guard and civilian enter his cell and handcuff him, he hears No. 402 tap, "I ENVY YOU. I ENVY YOU. FAREWELL." Rubashov tells the civilian he has no more wishes as he walks down to the execution site. His pince-nez falls down the stairs to be pocketed by the man behind him, and Rubashov walks with difficulty along the corridor, wondering when he will be killed. He is hit on the back of the head and crumples to the ground. He dreams he is hearing a knocking at the front door, and tries to fit his arm into his dressing-gown as "a shapeless figure" bends over him, raises a pistol, and kills him.
The scene in Wassilij's apartment provides the novel's second shift away from Rubashov's perspective (the first being to Ivanov and Gletkin's differing ideas about the Party's philosophy). This shift at such a late point in the novel creates the sense that the main story is finished, and what remains is only the logical conclusion of what has happened thus far.
Both Wassilij and his old comrade Rubashov are in diminished circumstances and are no longer respected for their earlier efforts on behalf of the Party: Wassilij's shame and debasement are private, while Rubashov's shame and debasement are public and will conclude in execution. Also like Rubashov (and, ultimately, Ivanov), Wassilij finds that his wisdom and experience are being cast aside by the younger, contemptuous generation, which thinks only in terms of loyalty to the Party. Wassilij's comment that "'the Party has taught you all to be cunning'" also parallels Rubashov's earlier comment that for the Party, lies are often better than truth because lies frequently accomplish more for the Party than the truth does. Both of these veteran Party members have come to believe that the Party often uses immorality to govern its people. The Party, as Wassilij and Rubashov know, always emphasizes the result over the methods used to produce the result. Both have personally experienced this, as their degraded situations reveal.
As the narrative returns to Rubashov's perspective, he continues to appear torn between his own instincts and memory and his continued belief in Party dictates. Rubashov has resisted the desire to be a martyr and decided to obey the Party's wish for him to be the silent scapegoat. Yet, he is still driven to regard himself as a singular individual who remains beyond the reach of the Party's logic and belief in collectivism. As Rubashov stands in his cell, he finally seems to doubt the rightness of living by pure reason for a Party that justifies its execution of him by calling it a necessary means to an end.
Rubashov's final talk with No. 402 is a simple conversation between two men commiserating over their fates, not a lofty discussion of Party philosophy. As Rubashov walks toward his death, the readers are still presented with the conflict between the individual and the masses, and not even his death can resolve the issue.