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Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The central theme of the novel is embodied in the eternal struggle between the old and the new, certainly not a new theme in literature, but one particularly appropriate for the postrevolutionary transitional period of the 1920’s in the Soviet Union. Authors such as Yury Olesha had been educated to the traditional ideals of culture, beauty, and individual achievement, while the new Soviet leaders cultivated the more prosaic ideals of industrialization, egalitarianism, and collective achievement. The conflict between these sets of ideals raged not only among political and social groupings but also within individuals. None of the characters is very attractive; each seems to be lacking something essential to an integrated human personality. The author may well be using this theme, demonstrated through these flawed characters, to demonstrate his own ambivalence toward the old and new orders; instead of showing readers the best of both worlds, he presents the worst of both as a warning of the dangers inherent in each view: excessive rigidity and lack of human feelings on one hand, and rejection of reality with actual improvements in the human condition on the other.

Although it is not explicit in the novel, Valya seems to represent a possible synthesis between the two orders, uniting feelings and beauty with the benefits of material progress. A possible reason for the nondevelopment of this theme may have been the inability of the author to envision how such a synthesis could come about.

This main theme is complicated by Kavalerov’s attitude toward the new society. While he seems to be a proponent of the old order, his feelings of animosity are fueled by his inability to fit into the new order; in other words, an almost adolescent rejection of the adult world which will end if Kavalerov can fit into the new society. The rejection is based upon principle as much as upon personal...

(The entire section is 477 words.)