(In this strange drama, which might be called a symbolic tragi-comedy, the Russian writer has set forth the plight of the educated people of his country, confronted by the abject superstition of the peasantry. Savva, a fanatical revolutionist, endeavors to wipe out this superstition by blowing up monastery full of drunken monks. But the plot is revealed to the monks, who carry out the ikon, or sacred image, before the explosion, and afterwards carry it back into the ruins. The peasants, arriving on the scene and finding the ikon uninjured, hail a supreme miracle; the whole country is swept by a wave of religious frenzy, in the course of which Savva is trampled to death by a mob.
In the following scene Savva argues with his sister, a religious believer. The tramp of pilgrims is heard outside.)
Savva (smiling): The tramp of death!
Lipa: Remember the each one of these would consider himself happy in killing you, in crushing you like a reptile. Each one of these is your death. Why, they beat a simple thief to death, a horse thief. What would they not do to you? You who wanted to steal their God!
Savva: Quite true. That’s property too.
Lipa: You still have the brazenness to joke? Who gave you the right to do such a thing? Who gave you the power over people? How dare you meddle with what to them is right? How dare you interfere with their life?
Savva: Who gave me the right? You gave it to me. Who gave me the power? You gave it to me–you with your malice, your ignorance, you stupidity! You with your wretched impotence! Right! Power! They have turned the earth into a sewer, an outrage, an abode of slaves. They worry each other, they torture each other and they ask: “Who dares to take us by the throat?” I! Do you understand? I!
Lipa: But to destroy all! Think of it!
Savva: What could you with them? What would you do? Try to persuade the oxen to turn away from their bovine path? Catch each one by his horn and pull him away? Would you put on a frock-coat and read a lecture? Haven’t they had plenty to teach them? As if words and thought had any significance to them! Thought–pure, unhappy thought! They have perverted it. They have taught it to cheat and defraud. They have made it a salable commodity, to be bought at auction in the market. No, sister, life is short, and I am not going to waste it in arguments with oxen. The way to deal with them is by fire. That’s what they require–fire!
Lipa: But what do you want? What do you want?
Savva: What do I want? To free the earth, to free mankind. Man–the man of today–is wise. He has come to his senses. He is ripe for liberty. But the past eats away at his soul like a canker. It imprisons him within the iron circle of things already accomplished. I want to do away with everything behind man, so that there is nothing to see when he looks back. I want to take him by the scruff of his neck and turn his face toward the future!