Sunday, May 13, 2007

Cancer Ward


The cage was empty but it had the usual notice reading "Macaque Rhesus." It had been hurredly scrawled and nailed to the plywood. It said: "The little monkey that used to live here was blinded because of the senseless cruelty of one of the visitors. An evil man threw tobacco in the Macaque-Rhesus's eyes."

Oleg was struck dumb. Up to then he had been strolling along smiling with knowing condescension, but now he felt like yelling and roaring across the whole zoo, as though the tobacco had been thrown into his own eyes, "Why?" Thrown into its eyes, just like that! "Why? It's senseless! Why?" - Kostoglotov in Cancer Ward

Picture credit and Short sound clip of This is Our Last Sunday/Ta ostatnia niedziela (WMA format), the theme song for the Russian film Burnt By the Sun. The song is also colloquially known as the Suicide Tango. The man in the picture (above) is a Soviet NKVD operative named Mitya. [video of scene in Burnt by the Sun]

Cancer Ward (1968), by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is an allegory about post-Stalin Russia. Wikipedia comments:

"As the title hints, the plot focuses on a group of cancer patients as they undergo therapy. The novel deals with political theories, mortality and hope, themes that are often explored either through descriptive passages or the conversations the characters have within the ward, which is a microcosm of the post Stalin Russian Communist regime...

Cancer Ward the novel, makes many allegorial references to the state of Soviet Russia, in particular the quote from Kostoglotov "A man dies from a tumour, so how can a country survive with growths like labour camps and exiles?" highlights the comparison between cancer overtaking the patient with the police state overtaking Russia.

Solzhenitsyn himself writes in an appendix to Cancer Ward that the 'evil man' who threw tobacco in the macaque's eyes at the zoo is meant to directly represent Stalin, and the monkey the innocent prisoner. The other zoo animals also have significance, the tiger reminiscent of Stalin and the squirrel running itself to death the proletariat.

On the light side:
Viktor Huliganov tells his audience not to poison other people by smoking in public and sings "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." [Video]

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