Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In the novel, Andrei Klimentov satirizes both traditional Russian society and the new Soviet republic. The characters find themselves in dire circumstances as the world is changing so fast around them that they cannot readily adjust. At the same time, many of the challenging conditions seem not to have been altered in the slightest. The most pessimistic characters, especially Voshchev, take the view that life, being meaningless, in fact cannot improve; they devote their time just to coping with the expected daily hardships. Ironically, the most decisive action he takes is to kill an idealist activist, whose fervent optimism he rejects.
Prushevsky, in contrast, devotes himself to the grand principle and the practical project of a collective home for the proletariat. Making it even greater, and therefore larger, is the only path that makes sense to him, indicating his detachment from the affective bases of community. He stands for the inadequacy of the scientific rationalism that Soviet modernism depended upon. The contrasting character of Chiklin exemplifies the challenge of turning the traditional working class, who were trained to be mindless followers, into the class-conscious proletariat, who will be masters of their own destiny. He is unable to formulate a vision of the future, as symbolized by his failure to care for a child despite his genuine affection for her.
The glimmer of hope that Nastya brings into the workmen’s lives seems for a while to promise a new day. Her character can be taken to stand for the failed promise of the Soviet Revolution. The men not only continue to labor on the huge “foundation,” but some seek to expand it even further. Here as well, the Soviet nation is figuratively in too deep; the new ruling class, in seeking to make a stronger society, is instead digging a hole from which it cannot emerge.