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By Maxim Gorky
Translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair and Jeremy Brooks
New York: The Viking Press, 1973
SBN: 670-44354-9
90 pages

Bob Corbett
March 2016

This is a terribly sad play set in a very run down rooming house where virtually no one seems to pay any rent. The large group of “roomers” are resolved to their positions as losers in society and simply expect bad things to happen, and they do; constantly!

The young wife of one man is dying. She asks one of the older men to just talk to her. She knows she’s dying and she’s scared. He tells her:

“It’s noting. It’s only death’s beginnings, little pigeon. It’s really nothing, my dear. Just hope. You’ll do a little dying, that’s all, and then you’ll be wrapped in a long peace…”

She even brightens up at this promise of a long peace with death.

Others are in an argument and one tells the other:

“Whatever you believe in, exists.”

This, he claims is true when one is describing life elsewhere to another person.

After the young woman dies one of the “residents” says:

“It’s the same for everyone – they’re born, they live a bit then they die. So will you. What’s sad about it?”

That view seems to pervade the play. These are the casts out of society. They expect suffering and it seems to find them everywhere. They believe they are trying to escape, but there just seems to be no way out. No matter what they do they seem to just enhance their own misery.

Nastya tells her sad story of a lover whose parents demanded that he give her up. Is it all a lie? A story he told her or one she made up? It’s unclear. But others in the group know they need to dream, to hope, to love or be loved, yet, dare they hope?

One person tells the other of a man who believed there must be a virtuous land. Scientist proved there was none. That man then hung himself.

Baron says:

“I’ve never understood anything. I feel . . . out of place . . . somehow. I seem to have done nothing all my life but change one lot of clothes for another and what for? – I don’t understand it.

Another says:

“We drink, we make merry, and if death comes – we bury.”

Just then another comes into announce that one of their group has just hung himself.

Final line: “Ooh . . . spoilt our song . . . the fool.”

The play is very well named: The Lower Depths. These folks are the utter dregs of society, and their number is not small, quite the opposite. They don’t really have hope, they don’t seriously try to change their lives nor do they believe they could if they tried. Their lot is sealed and they will be in these lower depths until they die.

Maxim Gorky isn’t writing a moral tale that he is bemoaning. Rather, he is writing a descriptive play and he doesn’t really judge, nor do his characters. They just live and acknowledge who they are and share with us what it’s like in those lower depths. I think the play is much more powerful because of the fact that Gorky isn’t preaching or condemning. He just tells what it’s like in those depths.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett