The play contains, as it were, two parallel actions. The first is social and the second is philosophical. Both actions develop in parallel, not intertwining. There are two planes in the play: external and internal.
The external plan. In the doss house, owned by Mikhail Ivanovich Kostylev and his wife Vasilisa Karpovna, “the former people”, that is, people without a solid social status, live, by the author’s definition, and also working, but the poor. They are: Satin and the Actor, Vaska Ash, thief, Andrei Mitrich Mite, locksmith, his wife Anna, Nastya, prostitute, Bubnov, Baron, Alyoshka, Tatarin and Crooked Zob, hooks. In the house appear Kvashnya, a dumpling trader and Medvedev, Uncle Vasilisa, a policeman. There are very complicated relations between them, scandals are often tied up. Vasilisa is in love with Vaska and tells him to kill his elderly husband in order to be the sole mistress. Vaska is in love with Natalia, Vasilisa’s sister; Vasilissa, out
of jealousy, beats her sister mercilessly. Satin and the Actor – completely descended people, drunkards, gamblers, Satin is also a sharper. The Baron is a former nobleman, spoiled the whole state and now one of the most miserable people of the doss house. The mite tries to earn its metalworking tools; his wife Anna becomes ill and needs medicines; At the end of the play Anna dies, and the Ticks finally sinks “to the bottom.”
In the midst of drunks and scandals in the doss house appears a wanderer Luka, who pities people. He promises many unrealizable bright future. Anne, he predicts an afterlife happiness. The actor tells about a free hospital for alcoholics. Vaska and Natasha advise to leave the house, etc. But at the most intense moment, Luke actually escapes, leaving behind the hopeful people. The actor brings this to suicide. In the finals, the doss-lodgers sing a song, and when Satin hears about the death of the Actor, he annoyingly and bitterly says: “Eh… I ruined the song… fool!” Internal plan. In the play, two philosophical “truths” collide: Luke and
Satina. The house-lodge is a kind of symbol of humanity, which found itself in a dead end, which by the beginning of the 20th century. has lost faith in God, but has not yet gained faith in himself. Hence the general feeling of hopelessness, lack of perspective, which, in particular, express the actor and Bubnov in the words: “And what’s next” and “A thread is rotten…” The world is dilapidated, exhausted, is coming to an end. Satin prefers to accept this bitter truth and not lie to himself or to people. Ticks he suggests quitting work. If all people stop working, what will happen? “They will die of starvation…” – responds Mite, but by that he only reveals the meaningless essence of labor, which is aimed only at maintaining life, and not bringing any meaning into it. Satin is a kind of radical existentialist, a man who accepts the absurdity of the universe, in which “God is dead” and the emptiness is revealed, nothing, and Luke believes that the terrible nonsense of life should cause a special pity for man. a man needs to lie, one must lie to him, to console him. Otherwise, a person will not stand the “truth” and die. So Luke tells a parable about the seeker of the righteous earth and the scientist, who showed him on the map that there is no righteous land. The offended man went away and hanged himself. Luke is not just an ordinary wanderer, a comforter, but also a philosopher. In his opinion, a man must live in spite of the nonsense of life, for he does not know his future, he is only a stranger in the universe, and even our land in space is a stranger. Luka and Satin are arguing. But Satin in some way accepts the “truth” of Luke. In any case, it is the appearance of Luke provoking Satin to his monologue about the Man, which he utters, imitating the voice of his opponent. Satin wants to spare and console the person, but, having told him the whole truth about the meaninglessness of life, to encourage him to self-respect and rebellion against the universe. Human, realizing the tragedy of its existence, should not despair, but, on the contrary, feel its value. The whole meaning of the universe is one. There is no other meaning. “Man – this sounds proudly!” “Everything is in man, everything is for man.”