Nikolai Kavalerov (nih-koh-LAY kah-vah-LEH-rov), a homeless drunk, the narrator of the first part of the novel. Kavalerov, a twenty-seven-year-old drifter, “a fat-bellied little guy,” has a difficult time finding his place in postrevolutionary Soviet society. His main problem is that he sees no chance for individual success, unlike in the West. Fighting for tenderness, pathos, and individuality, he cannot adjust to the mechanical, practical, and despiritualized world around him and become a cog in the machine; in fact, he does not understand anything about mechanics and is afraid of machines. It is in this world, however, that he longs for glory. Because of this personality split, he develops a strong envy of those who are successful. As a result, he becomes a bystander, a typical superfluous man of Russian literature and a jester at those who have succeeded. He develops a false superiority complex out of his inferiority, belittling everything in impotent rage.
Andrei Babichev (bah-BEE-chehv), the director of the Food Industry Trust. Andrei is an example of the success for which Kavalerov yearns. An inventor of the “Quarter,” a cafeteria offering a two-course meal of nourishing, clean, and cheap food for a quarter, he takes pride in being practical and efficient. He has no respect for good-for-nothings like Kavalerov, whom he literally picked out of the gutter in the hope of...
(The entire section is 637 words.)