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Two Adams and Eve in the Crystal Palace: Dostoevsky, The Bible, and We

  • Richard A. Gregg (a1)

“Prophetic” is a quality which few thoughtful readers would deny Zamiatin's We. For if its moral argument (the irreconcilability of “pure” communism and individual freedom) has, to a disturbing degree, been confirmed by the course of twentieth-century history, so have some of its boldest technological predictions (for example, stateenforced restrictions on human fertility, Communist-inaugurated space travel). Even its genre (an original blend of political satire and science fiction) has proven to be a prophecy of sorts, anticipating, as it does, the more celebrated satirical fantasies of Huxley and Orwell.

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1 It is true that the futuristic novels of H. G. Wells (who strongly influenced Zamiatin) are not without satirical overtones. But whereas in Wells satire is a subsidiary and dispensable element, in We it is inalienable and essential.

2 Introduction to Eugene Zamiatin, We, trans. Gregory Zilboorg (New York: Dutton, 1959), p. viii (“Dutton Everyman Paperback“).

3 Zamyatin, a Soviet Heretic (London, 1962), p. 56.

4 inline-graphic, (New York, 1952), pp. 84-85. For the quotations from the text of My, I have drawn upon the translation by Gregory Zilboorg (see note 2 above), with minor modifications.

5 It is also interesting to compare Dostoevsky's rebel who swears he will never “bring a single brick” to the building of the Crystal Palace inline-graphic [Moscow, 1956], IV, 152) to Zamiatin's latter-day rebels, who by their apostasy have “lost their rights to be the bricks … of the United State” inline-graphic, p . 128).

6 inline-graphic, P. 13.

7 inline-graphic, p . 152.

8 Ibid., p. 158.

9 inline-graphic, pp . 37 ff.

10 inline-graphic, p . 155.

11 inline-graphic, pp. 59-60. Richards (pp. 60-64) takes cognizance of this correspondence but not of the others.

12 The words are actually pronounced by the “lame schoolteacher,” but they are an admiring description of Shigalovism, and evidently have Shigalov's approval.

13 inline-graphic, VII, 423, 424.

14 Ibid., p. 442.

15 inline-graphic, p . 9.

16 Ibid., p. 111.

17 Ibid., p. 56.

18 Ibid., p. 25.

19 Ibid., p. 66.

20 Ibid., p. 74

21 Ibid., p. 56.

22 Ibid. The fact that R-13 is referring to 0-90, while the reader (and no doubt D-503) have q u i t e another “Eve” i n mind is characteristic of Zamiatin's compounded ironies.

23 Ibid., p. 121.

24 Ibid., p. 96. Ironically, this Guardian Angel is, in fact, a fallen angel, for it is S-4711 that the hero is referring to. Since Satan, too, was once an angel, Zamiatin is being faithful to religious as well as literary tradition here.

25 T h e use of the Roman alphabet for the nomenclature of Zamiatin's characters made p u n n i n g difficult in Russian. His excellent command of English makes that language appear to be the likeliest candidate, although it is t r u e that the play would also have been valid in French (Satan, serpent) or German (Satan, Schlange). The reader may wonder why Zamiatin did not try to slip i n symbolic hints of the Genesis story in the other names. T h e answer is that he seems to have done exactly this. Thus, the phonetic value of Eve's i n i t i a l in English is rendered by the Cyrillic “H,” which, in turn, is the conventional •written equivalent of the English letter “ I . “ Hence an identity of sorts between 1-330 and her mythological archetype. If this seems a little far-fetched, it will be noted that the letter of the poet R-13 phonetically rendered in Russian is “ P , “ the graphic equivalent of which in our alphabet is, of course, also “ P . “ Since Zamiatin's poet was almost certainly a kind of avatar of Pushkin (see note 38 below), the initial once again fits the archetype. When it came to encoding the mythic name of the hero, Zamiatin encountered a special problem, since all the men in the United State h a d to have consonantal names. Unable to use Adam's first letter, Zamiatin simply used the second one.

26 inline-graphic, p . 122.

27 Ibid., p. 50.

28 It does not follow, of course, that whenever Zamiatin's plot diverges from Genesis we must look for irony. There are important narrative elements in We which are quite unrelated to the story of Eden. The myth is, after all, only one strand—though a very important one—in Zamiatin's plot.

29 (inline-graphic), p. 101.

30 Ibid., p. 111.

31 Ibid., p. 142.

32 D-503 tries to free his fellow men by turning his spaceship “Integral” over to the insurgent enemy.

33 inline-graphic, p . 184.

34 Ibid., p. 183.

35 This may also have been suggested by Dostoevsky, whose underground hero was a symbolic forty years old.

36 inline-graphic, pp. 185-86.

37 Ibid., p. 193.

38 What, for instance, are we supposed to make of the hints which Zamiatin drops with regard to R-13? His status as the country's greatest poet, his somewhat negroid features, and his ebullient character—to say nothing of the fact that he composes hymns of praise to his country, but fights for individual freedom and eventually falls victim to the regime —all this cannot fail to remind the Russian reader of Pushkin. But it cannot be said that this identification, even if valid, helps illuminate the novel as a whole. More than anything, it seems like a private joke. Symbol hunters will also note the use of the seasonal cycle (spring fever at the beginning, autumnal resignation and defeat at the end), as well as water imagery (dripping faucets, bubbling fountains), which is clearly connected with the motif of freedom and revolt. Here, too, however, the artistic effectiveness of these symbols may be questioned.

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Slavic Review
  • ISSN: 0037-6779
  • EISSN: 2325-7784
  • URL: /core/journals/slavic-review
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