Chad's Reviews > Salvage

Salvage by Tom Stoppard
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Dec 09, 2008

it was amazing
Read in July, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Salvage, the concluding play in Tom Stoppard’s trilogy The Coast of Utopia, addresses the concept of liberty. In this part, Alexander Herzen and his inner circle are Russian exiles living in London. England, according to Nicholas Ogarev, Herzen’s best friend, is a country where even beggars receive a degree of liberty. British policemen, unlike Russian policemen, are unable to arrest beggars for vagrancy. Ogarev also sees England as a country where thousands of people die daily from poverty. Ogarev states, “With all this liberty, there’s no beggar in France or Russia as destitute as the London poor, and with all this poverty, no Frenchman or Russian has his liberty guarded like a London beggar.” Therefore, the question naturally arises: In England, are poverty and liberty inseparable?
This question continues when Tsar Alexander II---much to Herzen’s delight---frees the Russian serfs. However, the serfs believe that the land they worked for now belongs to them, and when they come to realize this isn’t accurate---they will, in fact, have to pay rent for their plots---“freedom bears an uncanny resemblance to serfdom.”
Salvage reads as a lament, and it explores the tensions between communal and communistic socialism. Herzen advocates commercial socialism, a system where each household has its own plot. In Part II of The Coast of Utopia, Herzen witnessed the violence of the European Revolution firsthand, and this experience strongly influenced his feelings against aggressive forms of social change. At the end of Salvage, Herzen tells Ogarev, “We have to open men’s eyes and not tear them out.” This nonviolent sentiment, however, is not favored by a growing number of Russians---those who eventually become the Bolsheviks. Salvage shows the emergence of nihilism, and this new generation sees the ideas of Herzen and his contemporaries as tedious, sentimental, and addicted to nostalgia.
The Coast of Utopia concludes with Herzen feeling responsible for the impending violence. He foresees himself as “the future custodian of…a desecrated grave.” The tomb, of course, refers to Russia. The intelligentsia has been replaced with the nihilists, and Herzen’s writings will soon be overpowered by violence.


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