Voshchev (VOH-shchehv), a former machinist, now a laborer in the crew digging a foundation for a multiple housing unit in the Soviet Union in the early 1930’s. At the age of thirty, he lost his job because of a tendency to “stop and think.” Amid the changes in the Soviet Union designed to build the new society after the revolution, he feels the need to understand the “sense of the action” and the enduring meaning of life. He sees suffering everywhere, and his main quality is compassion. He strikes the death blow to the activist as punishment for the activist’s error in believing that he had a monopoly on truth. Voshchev, the truth-seeker, deserts his search when Nastya dies.
Prushevsky (prew-SHEHV-skee), an engineer and intellectual with an “excited” heart. He is only twenty-five years old, but he is “gray” because, as a scientist and rationalist, he regards the world as dead matter, a perception that limits and depresses his imaginative mind. It was his idea to build a great communal building, for which the foundation pit is being excavated by the powerful labor of the crew. The building will eliminate exactly those individual relationships in which the engineer is deficient, those that bind people together. He has the memory of a lost love, a glimpse of a woman whom he never saw again; it provides his only feelings. This man without love can build only the structure that will unmake humankind itself. His lack of feeling leaves him in despair, wishing for suicide.
Chiklin (CHIH-klihn), the brigade leader of the diggers. He is very strong, hardworking, and generous. An older man, he has a “small stony head,” thick with hair; he is a worker, not a thinker, and cannot...
(The entire section is 772 words.)