The Seven Who Were Hanged

by Leonid Andreyev

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Summary

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When the police inform a powerful minister that there is a plot to assassinate him, he is terrified. Nevertheless, the police assure him that he will be given ample protection; they know who the terrorists are, and they will arrest them.

As good as their word, the police seize three men and two women, young people ranging in age from nineteen to twenty-eight years old. A large amount of dynamite is also found. The evidence is so damaging that the prisoners know they will be sentenced to hang. The trial is swift, and the five revolutionists are imprisoned until the time of their execution, two days hence.

In the same prison are two other condemned men who have been waiting about two weeks for their execution. One is Ivan Yanson, a peasant workman. He is an Estonian who speaks Russian poorly and talks little. His ignorance makes him cruel. Since there are no humans on whom he can vent his rage, he regularly beats the animals under his care. He frequently drinks too much, and then his cruelty to animals is worse than usual. Once he tried to make love to another servant, but he is so repulsive-looking that she rejected him. One night, Yanson entered the room where his master was and stabbed him to death. He then tried to rape his mistress, but she escaped him. While attempting to flee with some money he stole, he was seized, tried, and sentenced to hang.

At first, he wants the time before his execution to pass quickly. Then, as the time grows shorter, he begins to tell his guards that he does not want to die, that he does not understand why he should be hanged. Yanson has no one to love or to believe in. Partly stupefied by fear, he is unable to take in much of what happened to him.

The other condemned man is Tsiganok Golubets, a robber and murderer who takes pride in his brutal accomplishments. At times, completely mad, he gets down on all fours and howls like a wolf. Then, for a time, he will be quiet. What little time remains of his life is meaningless to him, for he knows only how to rob and kill, and these pleasures are now taken away.

The five revolutionists each determine not to show fear. When Sergey Golovin’s father and mother visit him in his cell, however, he can no longer be brave, and he cries. Sergey is young, and life is strong in him; he finds it hard to understand that he is soon to die.

Only Vasily Kashirin’s mother comes to see him, for his father is not interested in seeing his son again. Vasily, who long ago lost respect for his parents, has no regrets about not seeing his father. Even his mother means little to him; there is really no one he hates to leave when he dies. While he waits for his execution, he shows no signs of fear.

It is not for herself but for her comrades that Tanya Kovalchuk worries. The fact that she, too, is to die has no meaning for her; she is concerned only for the discomfort and fears of her children, as she calls the others. She loves them all.

Musya knows that she will not completely die when she is hanged. She will join the martyrs whom she admires so much, and her name will live forever. She has only one regret; she did nothing significant enough to justify her martyrdom. She consoles herself with the thought that she was on the threshold of...

(This entire section contains 1043 words.)

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great deeds. She thinks that she conquered her captors, for the fact that they are going to kill her proves that they fear her. Musya eagerly awaits her execution.

The man called Werner long develops a contempt for humanity and is tired of life. There is no one he respects or admires; he is cold and superior even to his comrades. In his cell, however, he suddenly develops a love for humanity in his realization of human progress from an animal state. Loving and pitying other people, Werner feels more freedom in his prison cell than he ever knew outside. It is a long time since he felt sympathy for others; the feeling is a good one.

On the day of their execution, the five are allowed to talk together for a short time. They are almost afraid to look at one another, each not wanting to see fear in a comrade’s face. Vasily cannot control his emotions. The others, particularly Tanya, urge him to be calm and not to allow their guards to see his fear.

When the time comes for the execution, Yanson and Golubets join them. Yanson is still babbling about not wanting to be hanged. Golubets retains his arrogance and makes a joke about dying. Transferred to a train, they are allowed to sit together until they reach their destination. Musya is happy to see that Werner loses his scorn for the others. As they draw nearer their final stop, she smiles; soon she will join those whom she admires so much.

On their arrival, Yanson has to be carried from the coach. Golubets wants to attack the guards. The night is cold, and often they slip in the snow as they march toward the scaffold. All refuse the services of a priest who is present. They all kiss one another good-bye and walk in pairs to the ropes. Sergey and Vasily go first, Vasily outwardly calm and in control of himself. At the last minute, Golubets is frightened and asks to go with one of the five brave ones. Musya takes his hand, kisses him, and they follow Sergey and Vasily. Musya’s hand calms Golubets; he is arrogant again as he climbs the steps. Werner takes Yanson with him, but the peasant has to be carried most of the way. Tanya is the last, and she goes alone. Her children all went bravely. She is happy.

After Tanya’s drop, there is silence for a moment in the wintry night. Then the bodies are taken back over the same road they traveled a short time before, but only their bodies—their souls are elsewhere.

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