Rubashov tries to hate the warder, but finds himself imagining the scene (a prisoner once great and prestigious, now provocative and arrogant, his cell un-cleaned) from the officer’s point of view. Rubashov reflects that if he really had some self-respect he’d clean the tiles, but instead he peers up and into the courtyard, where the sentinel is pacing.
Once again, Rubashov’s desire for hatred is belied by his ability, or at least his attempt, to imagine his way into another individual’s consciousness. As will become clear, it is this talent that will clash with the ideals he thinks he believes in.
Rubashov reminds himself that revolutionaries shouldn’t imagine themselves into other people’s minds, but then he asks himself how else one can change the world. Rubashov reminds himself that they’ll shoot him without being interested in his motives. Then he begins to hear a tapping sound coming regularly from No. 402. He wonders if the prisoner knows the “quadratic alphabet.” He tries to visualize the square of 25 compartments: 402 taps 5 times then twice: the fifth row of letters, then second letter of the row: W. Eventually he hears the prisoner tap out, “WHO?”
Here, Rubashov begins to acknowledge that his ability to imagine other people’s points of view—that is, his capacity for empathy—is both a useful tool for “changing the world,” but also, at the same time, a potentially counter-revolutionary tactic that won’t win him any favors at trial. Next, Rubashov employs another useful tool, a way of communicating without speech or sight.
Rubashov taps out his name, and smiles at the long pause. He’s probably afraid, Rubashov thinks: perhaps he’s a non-political prisoner, still earnestly believing that his subjective guilt or innocence makes a difference, rather than the larger interests at hand. But then he hears, “SERVES YOU RIGHT.”
Rubashov, as we’ve learned, has been an important figure in the Party leadership, probably more important than many of the other people imprisoned here. Rubashov finds this inequality amusing.
Now Rubashov realizes that No. 402 is a “conformist:” he believes in the infallibility of history and of No. 1, and that his own arrest is just a misunderstanding. Rubashov had imagined the man with a black Pushkin beard, grown in despair, but now Rubashov pictures him clean-shaven and fanatical, his room clean and strictly conforming to regulations. He asks who the prisoner is, but 402 responds that it’s none of his business.
As usual, Rubashov enjoys trying to picture another person’s mind and attitude, and here he pictures both physical and intellectual attributes to bolster the idea of the fellow prisoner. His imaginings are elaborate, though he has few details on which to base them.
Then 402 taps out “LONG LIVE H.M. THE EMPEROR,” and Rubashov realizes that there are, in fact, real counter-revolutionaries in this society: they’re not just scapegoats from No. 1’s speeches. Now amused, Rubashov keeps sending messages until finally 402 requests details about the last time Rubashov slept with a woman. Rubashov tries to remember an old pre-war song, and he taps out a message about “snowy breasts” that fit into champagne glasses and other details.
The praise of “His Majesty” identifies No. 402 as someone who refused to align himself with the Revolution and instead remained loyal to the monarchy that was in power beforehand. 402 does, though, seem more concerned with sex than with politics, which Rubashov also finds vaguely amusing.
Rubashov wearies of the game, but he doesn’t want to offend No. 402, who keeps tapping, begging him to continue. Rubashov tries to imagine the prisoner’s body, then he thinks back to the hands and arms of No. 407. He realizes that they reminded him of the Pietà.
Rubashov recognizes that it may be useful for him to maintain a relationship to No. 402, now that he’s found himself in a vulnerable position.