Sanine centers on the title character and the profound effect he produces on his family and acquaintances. At the end of the novel, Sanine vanishes into the limbo from which he originated. The hero exists in a vacuum; little information is given about his past activities or his future plans. His physical presence is powerful, however, as is made clear by repeated mention of his prominent muscles and mocking eyes. By limiting Sanine’s existence to the novel’s present, Mikhail Artsybashev demonstrates Sanine’s appreciation of life’s immediacy. Sanine is a mouthpiece for the author’s views and a didactic figure who considers it his duty to become involved in the lives of others and to demonstrate his convictions. Anarchical individuality guides his philosophy. For Sanine, Christianity has left humans ill-equipped for everyday living because Christianity directs attention inward. Its emphasis on humility deprives the underprivileged of the will to protest against the established order. Abstractions of law, morality, and government, in turn, which are also founded on hierarchical authority, suppress self-will. The development of egoism and the denial of any higher power will, and should, in Sanine’s view, lead to the rejection of domination.
Sanine consistently critiques intellectual achievement. Life is sensations, emotions, and sensual pleasure, but thought is empty conceptions and vain speech, powerless against the mystery of life and death. Sanine excepts literature, with its potential to ameliorate the human condition, from his contempt for intellectual activity. Nature, on the other hand, is a constant presence in the novel. Artsybashev shows the cyclical quality of life in the change of seasons. Although his style is cumbersome, the pictorial quality of Artsybashev’s natural scenes reveals a sensitivity to color and detail. Sanine’s intense physical response to nature demonstrates his pagan enjoyment of the earth.
The technology student, Svarozhich, acts as a foil to Sanine and demonstrates unnatural living. The two represent opposite camps among the Russian intelligentsia, which is emphasized by Sanine and Svarozhich both having their own followers. Sanine’s behavior testifies to physical joy, and Svarozhich’s thoughts reveal profound pessimism. Like Sanine, he was formerly active in revolutionary circles. Svarozhich, however, spent six months in prison and remains under police surveillance. Obsessed with the futility of human endeavor and engaging in the morbid introspection typical of Fyodor Dostoevski’s characters, he toys with the idea of suicide throughout the...
(The entire section is 1072 words.)