A key passage in Envy highlights the state of dominant Russian culture and politics in a series of encoded images--encoded because bourgeois Russian culture has at the time of the novel been transformed wholesale. Envy as a whole contemplates the multiple contingencies that have emerged out of revolutionary transition. This is the society that Ivan says "is eating us alive . . . the way a boa constrictor swallows a rabbit" (Olesha 344). So Ivan, in what he imagines to be a meaningful gesture, decides to withhold his magical Ophelia machine, which might have saved the new society, as an act of revenge.
That relatively straightforward anti-Soviet rant appears to mean pretty much what it says, though one does not have to be a white Russian to realize that the October Revolution succeeded in part because of tsarist greed. The text is not necessarily subversive because the rant is in the mouth of a drunk. More subversive--because more subtle--is the text of an episode titled "The Tale of the Meeting of Two Brothers." As a tale, it is ipso facto written in code, but embedded in that coded structure are a series of linguistic codes that also function as biting and symbolic commentary on the realities of experience in mother Russia.
"The Tale" as a pattern of ideas in general and its language, or the means by which it the pattern is articulated in particular are an exercise in magical symbolism that emphasizes the ponderous yet fragile structure of Soviet life. The relevant passage sets the scene for a dedication ceremony at The Quarter, Andrei's communal kitchen. Undergoing renovation, it is surrounded by scaffolding that, Ivan says, "detracts from the grandeur of structure" (Olesha 347). In other words the colorless apparatus of the Soviet state encases the ruined finery of tsarist Russia. Details of the building configuration, the setting for a nighttime dedication.
The evening was black, the lanterns white and globular, the festiv...