Characters Discussed

Nikolai Kavalerov

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

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...

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The Characters

The characters in this novel represent two conflicting attitudes in the Soviet Union of the 1920’s: the old order, expressed in respect for individual achievement and individual feelings, and the new order, expressed in mammoth construction projects and emphasis upon the group. Nikolai Kavalerov has grandiose dreams of becoming famous but cannot find a way to do so in the Soviet system; the only people who become famous are people such as Andrei Babichev, who invents the perfect sausage and dreams of large collective dining halls serving inexpensive meals, thus making the family kitchen and its accompanying drudgery unnecessary. Kavalerov’s hatred of Andrei is based upon envy, thus the title of the novel; Andrei becomes famous and Kavalerov, his intellectual superior, becomes a useless alcoholic.

Ivan Babichev is a more extreme Kavalerov; he rejects the entire twentieth century, with its emphasis upon technology and efficiency. While Kavalerov is merely a romantic out of tune with the times, Ivan is mentally ill and a pathological liar, potentially very dangerous. The author may be pointing out that Kavalerov’s path toward rejection of reality may lead to a much more serious condition than alcoholism and romantic nostalgia.

Volodya Makarov is a more extreme Andrei Babichev. While Andrei uses machines and has, by Kavalerov’s standards, rather mundane goals, Volodya has no goals other than to become a human machine with no signs of inefficiency or feelings to hamper perfect production, whether it be in athletics or labor.

In the midst of these male characters is Valya, the daughter of Ivan and apparently the symbol of the typical 1920’s Soviet girl. Valya seems to be the female equivalent of Volodya, but she values feelings. She also arouses feelings in the men of the novel, some romantic, some paternal or avuncular. In this sense Valya seems to represent the old order of feelings and cultivation of beauty, as well as the new order of physical fitness and social usefulness. In the end, she rejects her father and Kavalerov; she becomes a staunch member of the Andrei/Volodya camp, reflecting the actual course of history in the Soviet Union as well as pointing out the ineffectiveness of Ivan and Kavalerov.


Brown, Edward J. “Prophets of a Brave New World,” in Russian Literature Since the Revolution, 1982.

Struve, Gleb. Russian Literature Under Lenin and Stalin, 1971.

Tucker, Janet. “Jurij Olesa’s Envy: A Re-Examination,” in Slavic and East European Review. XXVI (1982), pp. 56-62.

Wilson, Wayne. “The Objective of Jurij Olesa’s Envy,” in Slavic and East European Review. XVIII (1974), pp. 31-40.