(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 1043 words.)