Emotion versus Reason

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin is a complex and revolutionary novel of Science fiction. D-503 is a mathematician living in the One State, journaling his daily life in order for future generations to learn about his society once the journal is put on the Integral (the spaceship D-503 is building). As a mathematician D-503 experiences the world in equations, from describing pleasing aesthetics to eventually emotions such as love with math (L=f(D): love is a function of death). ((Zamyatin, We 119)) Everything in the One State is measured and accounted for, using a Taylor system of time tables to block off the day. I-330 is the catalyst of all change in D-503’s life. Through the acquaintance of I-330, D-503 develops “an incurable… soul” and becomes aware of the confines of life within the One State. ((Zamyatin, We 79)) I-330 is a member of MEPHI (Mephisto), a rebellion group which stands for Anarchy, and who’s goal is to help the cave-man like creatures that live beyond the enclosing wall of the One State’s territory to break through and take down the current regime. ((Zamyatin, We 144)) Eventually D-503 is overcome with the events and turns himself in to the Bureau of Guardians, thusly turning over all of the rebels as well. The novel ends with a short entry from D-503 post-Opperation and devoid of human emotions. D-503 is only a shell of his former self as he watches without sympathy as I-330 is tortured for information, finally saying that “reason will win” and once again becoming a full supporter of the One State. ((Zamyatin, We 203))

We is a novel full of dichotomies, the most prevalent of which is reason versus emotion. The One State is obsessed with controlling it’s population, causing the people to become more machine than men. As D-503 states. “love and hunger are the masters of the world”; by regulating everything in life so closely even natural human emotions such as love become a designated hour of the day. ((Zamyatin, We 20)) Emotions have the power to effect change, which is one reason why I-330 is able to create a following of revolutionaries. One cause of the creation of the Operation is the rebellion, and the need to eliminate ‘dangerous’ qualities of people for the safety if the One State. The great struggle of the novel is increasing regulation over the daily life of citizens of the One State, with the inhabitants being as oblivious as possible, because once time doesn’t belong to themselves the only option left is to devote their entire lives to the good of the state.

How Rank Influenced Gogol’s The Overcoat


Gogol’s short story The Overcoat follows an awkward individual named Akaky Akakievich who occupies a low ranking position in the government where he simple copies documents all day. He saves up his money in order to get a new overcoat which is then stolen on his way back from a party. Akaky Akakievich asks for help from several higher level officials who all turn him down. After his death several days later, his ghost comes back and doesn’t leave until he finds and steals a perfectly-sized overcoat from one particularly Important Person who was one of the officials that cruelly rejected him.

This story makes several references to rank and relationships between different ranks. Akaky is from a very low level that tries to stay with those of similar rank. He is completely devoted to his job and is very good at it, but can’t seem to do anything else but that specific job and he receives no respect, possibly because of his rank. Akaky is constantly rejected or turned away when he asks for help for higher ranked officials, especially by the Important Person who tries to make himself even more prominent by yelling at everyone. This dynamic between the ranks mirrors actual societal ranks – the sosloviye – of the Russian system and criticizes the superiority given to higher ranking individuals.

The story also contains the classic message of the lower class rising up against the upper class. Akaky does die, but his ghost comes back and ultimately completes its revenge by giving a good scare to the Important Person and stealing back an overcoat. The Important Person also starts to act less mean towards his clients and coworkers, which signifies that Akaky, of a low rank, had an effect on this high ranking person. Readers can interpret this as an inspiring story that even the most dull, unimportant individual can make a difference on the upper class people.

Given Gogol’s criticism of rank and message of poor against rich, Gogol incorporated social aspects into his work, making him a member of the Russian intelligentsia devoted to social change through art.

Question: How does Akaky treat rank versus Akaky’s ghost and what does this signify? Why did Gogol include this?



Revolutionary Thought in Russian Literature

To me, the poem “We Grow Out of Iron” by Aleksei Gastev is about the power of the working class of Russia. The poem begins with the subject constructing a building out of iron, but by the middle lines of the poem the subject realizes that his work makes him strong, too. He grows confident and solid in his actions, surprising himself with his own strength and endurance as he shouts to his comrades “may I have the floor?” This echoes the revolution in the early 20th Century, when the wives and mothers began rioting over lack of food and, backed by their factory-working husbands and children, started a movement that would lead to significant change. What started as a demand for food turned into something stronger, the impact of which no one expected. When the workers all banded together the inertia of their actions was too strong to stop and before they knew it, they had made a real change—victory was theirs.


In contrast, I see in chapter five in Chapaev by Dmitri Furmanov the other approach to revolution that emphasizes educated leaders as the way to reform. Klychkov, the character based off the author Furmanov, is clearly educated, distinguishing himself from the famous Chapaev. Klychkov is also a plotter, carefully detailing how he plans on proving himself worthy to Chapaev and gain his confidence and trust.  He does this because he believes that Chapaev, despite being uneducated, could be a true revolutionary because of his peasant origins, which is where the “spontaneous feelings of rage and protest” grow strong. He recognizes this phenomenon among the peasantry, but at the same time questions, “who can see what spontaneous protest will lead to?” (Furmanov, 63).  He is weary of the efficacy of a wide revolt, wondering if uneducated peasants can actually bring about the change that is so necessary.

The famous Vasily Chapaev of the Russian Civil War.


The Cherry Orchard: A Modern Take

Anton Chekhov’s drama The Cherry Orchard focuses on a common motif that is often seen today: the idea of someone “selling out” their land and the environmental vs economic question it presents.  Recently, I watched the movie The Descendants and it’s amusing to see how much the movie, or the author of the book the movie was based on (Kaui Hart Hemmings) consciously or subconsciously borrowed from Chekhov.  Yes, the movie took place in Hawaii and not Russia, and no, there were no fatal boating accidents in The Cherry Orchard.  But the theme of a family facing the dilemma of selling land that has been in the family for centuries is exactly the same.

The theme centers around this:  a family possesses a large amount of valuable land that has belonged to their family for centuries.  The land is untouched and home to plants and wildlife.  The family comes across some kind of financial difficulty.  A rich person (in modern times, usually some sort of real estate developer or a CEO) offers to buy the land, promising a huge sum of money.  The family then faces the dilemma of whether or not to sell the land.

In The Cherry Orchard, Madame Ranevsky, who is deeply in debt, ultimately decides to sell the land to the wealthy Lopakhin.  She, her daughters, and her servants, leave the land and begin their lives anew.  The exception is the old manservant, Firs, who symbolically dies just as the ax begins to chop down the first trees.

In The Descendants, the proprietor of the land, Matt King, ultimately decides not to sell, much to the anger of his cousins.  This change could be due to the fact that Hemmings, as a modern day author, was more aware of environmental responsibilities than Chekhov was.

The thing that struck me the most about The Cherry Orchard was how universal and relevant is still is to modern life.  It can be compared to a George Clooney movie, as well as events that are happening in many of our own communities.  In my opinion, that is why Chekhov is considered one of western literature’s finest:  his ideas are still relatable to modern audiences.