Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 211

The Trial Begins by Andrei Sinyavsky is a set during the months leading up to dictator Joseph Stalin's death. The overall theme of the novel is the disintegration of the Soviet society due to xenophobia, paranoia, and an extremist form of nationalism. The novel examines the social and political forces...

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The Trial Begins by Andrei Sinyavsky is a set during the months leading up to dictator Joseph Stalin's death. The overall theme of the novel is the disintegration of the Soviet society due to xenophobia, paranoia, and an extremist form of nationalism. The novel examines the social and political forces that help create a figuratively cannibalistic society.

Another theme in the novel is the tension between modern Communist values and morality. The Soviet Union during the Stalin and post-Stalin era was guided and controlled by state ideology—based on their interpretation of Karl Marx's political and economic philosophies—and concepts such as abortion were seen as an evil program, which is allegedly initiated by Jewish physicians.

The trial referred to in the title is both an actual trial that takes place in the story and a metaphor for a cosmic trial against the sins of humanity. In fact, supernatural or fantastical elements are major themes. An omniscient, omnipresent Joseph Stalin, referred to as Master in the story, is a guiding force in the narrator's actions.

Another underlying theme in the book is betrayal. The wife of Globov is betraying him with her suitor, Karlinsky, whilst Stalin's own comrades are betraying him by concocting a fictional coup d'état plot involving Jews.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429

The theme of The Trial Begins is easily stated. The ideal of Communism has been hopelessly corrupted by Stalinism, the means used to implement that goal. This theme is woven throughout the text. Globov justifies the czarist subjugation of free mountain tribes in the Caucasus (as opposed to the British subjugation of nearby India) on the grounds that the land is necessary for the Soviet state. At a soccer game, Globov defends an unethical act by his favorite player since it was necessary for victory. Even Karlinsky finds that his goal of seducing Marina has been subverted by his means; he proves impotent. The major statement is, however, reserved for Rabinovich.

The central vehicle for expression of the theme is the trial of the novella’s title, which is more accurately translated as “the court is in session.” Humankind is on trial; to be accused is to be guilty. The purpose of the trial is not to establish guilt or innocence but to serve the Goal, supposedly Communism but in fact the convenience of the Master and his prosecutors, whose personal interests soon supplant the Goal. All issues are decided not on the basis of any reality, but on an a priori view of what best serves the Cause, leading to the perversion of the Revolution and an entire society. No reader will fail to note that in the end, Globov, Karlinsky, and Marina all thrive, while the idealist Seryozha, the narrator, and Rabinovich all rot in a camp.

The novella is beautifully crafted. Framed by a first-person prologue and epilogue, its seven chapters are divided into scenes that are almost dialectically juxtaposed by the omnipresent narrator. In chapter 4, the meeting at the zoo of the two young “lovers,” Seryozha and Katya, with their earnest talk of reforming the world, is counterpointed with the art museum where Karlinsky seeks to dazzle Marina into bed with his witty, philosophical sexual commentary on the history of mankind.

The style of the novella is described by its author as phantasmagoric. In the opening scene, one of the plainclothesmen scoops the letters off a manuscript page, watches them writhe, and puts them in his pocket. Globov has telepathic dreams in which he eavesdrops on Karlinsky and Marina in the museum. The mythic vision of Stalin flickers in and out of the story, often symbolized by his mighty right hand. The fantastic elements in the narrative reflect Sinyavsky’s reaction against the stultifying dogma of Socialist Realism and his view that only the phantasmagoric is capable of rendering the paranoic grotesquerie of Stalinist society.

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