No. 406, Rubashov’s new neighbor, keeps tapping a note with the same spelling mistake, “ARIE, YE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH,” over and over again. Rubashov assumes he’s insane. No. 402, meanwhile, periodically asks Rubashov to talk to him, and he relates dusty old anecdotes of officer’s talk. Out of sympathy, Rubashov sometimes taps out “ha-ha,” to which 402 responds with peals of laughter. He’s exasperating but also useful, having been there for several years: he knows how things work. Rubashov asks if he knows the new neighbor: RIP VAN WINKLE, he taps.
The message that No. 406 taps out again and again (with the same typo in “arise” each time) is an excerpt from the song of the Communist First and Second International, which also became the first national anthem of the Soviet Union. Rubashov has little patience for the prisoner’s fanaticism (unless it’s insanity unrelated to any ideological thrust), since it has so little to do with his own cool, logical attitude towards the ideology.
No. 402 taps that No. 406 had been a sociology teacher in a southeastern European state, and had participated in that country’s revolution after the last war. 406 was condemned to death in the repression that followed, but the sentence was commuted to life, and he served 20 years, mostly in solitary confinement, where he was largely forgotten. A month ago he was suddenly released through amnesty. He took the first train to this country, where two weeks later he was arrested—perhaps for talking too much, perhaps for asking for the addresses of old friends, now traitors. Now he’s back in a cell.
No. 406 is dubbed Rip Van Winkle, a character from an 1819 Washington Irving short story who fell asleep and woke up twenty years later. Like the character in the story, this prisoner has been released to find the world entirely turned upside down. Even Rubashov, when he was imprisoned for less than a year, had struggled to adapt to a new reality and a new set of prescribed truths upon his release.
Rubashov is taken that afternoon to be shaved. The barber works quickly, and Rubashov feels happy, finding the barber’s demeanor pleasant. As he gets ready to leave, the barber pushes two fingers under his collar, and Rubashov feels a ball of paper. Back in his cell, he reads, “Die in silence.” The messages smuggled to him in enemy country prisons had told him to protest: he wonders now if there are moments in history when the revolutionaries must keep silent.
Like the taxi driver, the barber is another example of someone who attempts to obliquely challenge the guiding authority through small, secret acts. But the barber considers that the greatest act Rubashov could do would be not to say anything outright. To simply keep silent is to refuse to bow to Party ideology.
Rubashov knows that he sacrificed Arlova because he himself was more valuable to the Revolution: a more convincing argument than “petty bourgeois morality.” Ivanov had quoted Rubashov saying that the next decade would decide the era’s fate: could Rubashov really bow out of it out of disgust and exhaustion? Wasn’t history always inhumane and cold? He begins to realize that his refusal of Ivanov’s offer is perhaps less unshakable than he thought.
Petty bourgeois morality is the way that the Party can dismiss arguments that seem to put the individual ahead of the group, or people who cede to feelings of pity that are assumed to be naïve vestiges of the past. Now Rubashov begins to wonder if history will perhaps conquer him after all.