He knows that to get the material he needs in his journal, he must gain their acceptance and trust, and so, he allows them to manipulate him. While they do not force him to kill the goose, he knows he has to do something to prove himself to them, and that is the only thing he can think of. He gains their respect, and so, he knows he will have the information he needs for his journal.
There is another, underlying theme in these passages that is more difficult to acknowledge, and that is the presence of the Russian government. In "Envy," the Party gives Kavalerov's roommate a spacious, luxurious apartment because of his prominence in the Party, and in the story leading up to the passage in "Red Cavalry," Gorky reads a Lenin speech reprinted by Pravda. Throughout all of these works, the theme of the Party and their influence over every aspect of life, from what people think to what people read and how they live. The Party is a constant thread in these works, and they indicate how structured life was in Russia at the time. The people enjoyed few freedoms - many of which we take for granted. People could be sent off to labor camps for the least infraction, and many, many were. Freedom was not a Russian element of life at the time, and yet, Russians still fought for their country. It shows that even a restrictive society like Russia's still inspired loyalty and patriotism in many people.
There is an animalistic quality to these passages as well. The men sit around the soup kettle and eat communally, carrying their utensils in their boots. They "slurp" the soup and generally have few manners among them as they eat. Babichev is like an animal as he contemplates...
He smacks his lips and snorts just like a pig - his ears even move when he begins to eat. Thus, food is sustenance and enjoyment, but it can also bring out the animal in people. If people are starving, they often behave like animals when they come upon food. The labor camp prisoners hoarded their bread so they would not feel hungry, and Babichev contemplates his food like an animal getting ready to eat from a trough. The Cossacks sit around a kettle and eat from it, again like hungry animals. Food can be gratifying and extremely civilizing as well. It can become the highlight of the day (or even life), but without it, sooner or later people are all reduced to animals attempting only to survive. Thus, food can bring out the best or worst in a person, and it can show their animalistic tendencies. Clearly, these characters have those tendencies, especially when it comes to food and food they enjoy.
Envy" seems to be the most modern of the works, and it deals with civilian life, rather than centering on war, or other violence. However, there is an underlying violence to the work that cannot be denied, just as there are in the other works. Babichev seems as if he is about to lay waste to the food he has brought from the corner store, and the Cossacks, lay waste to the soup in the kettle, and will probably do the same to the goose when it is delivered. Eating for these people is a little like war. They enter into it violently, get it over with quickly, and move on to the next objective. One reason may be that food is so scarce for many of the characters. However, food is not scarce for Babichev, and he still digs into his food with such gusto that it seems almost as if someone is after him for it. These characters might not consciously equate food with violence, but it seems to be an important aspect of violence in the stories. Meals are not leisurely; they are rushed and over too soon. Like war, the food is something to be conquered and dealt with, and then ignored until it is time to eat again.
Of course, these course emotions about food could also be equated with lust, which means that everyone in these works are as lusty as they are hungry, but that is not a common thread, more like an afterthought that seems to often pair itself with food as well.
Babel, Isaac. Red Cavalry. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
Olesha, Yuri. Envy.…
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