Is happiness possible for everyone? Analysis of the story “Roadside Picnic”.
The story of the Strugatsky brothers “Roadside Picnic” was written more than half a century ago. But it is still one of the most iconic books in the world of fantasy. It has been translated into over 50 languages and published in over 22 countries. This work gave rise to the whole world of the Zone and the movement of stalkers. The very word “stalker” was first heard in this book.
So what did the well-known Soviet science fiction writers write about that, why has the whole world been shaking for more than a decade?
Roadside Picnic plot
The plot is one of the most loved by everyone in the world of science fiction. What will happen on Earth if aliens visit it. Even before the Strugatskys, such events were repeatedly played up by science fiction writers. Take the same Wells. It would seem that there is still something new to say here.
But the Strugatskys are true to themselves. Their idea is brilliant and simple.
A small English-speaking town lost in the wilderness. According to the authors themselves, this is a fictional settlement from the former British colonies somewhere deep in northern Canada. The life of such a town is dull, gray and hopeless.
And now, like a miracle, it was this place that the aliens visited and the Zone appears – a territory with phenomena and artifacts that remained after the aliens left.
Moreover, the authors do not go into details – how exactly the Zone appeared, how exactly the contact took place, and what kind of aliens were.
No, by the beginning of the development of events, the Visitation has already taken place and the Zones exist as a kind of given. And the Strugatskys only show readers what happens to people who, one way or another, have touched the unknown.
The protagonist of the story is Redrick Shewhart. Bright, strong, outstanding personality. He lived almost his entire conscious life near the Zone. And he is a stalker. One of those daredevils who penetrates the forbidden territory for various unusual gizmos – “swag” – which he then sells and thereby earns his living. The fate of Redrick is already inseparable from the Zone, and his whole life is divided from sortie to sortie.
The apotheosis of his stalker career was the campaign for the most valuable artifact – the Golden Ball – something that can fulfill the most secret desires. But having reached the Ball, sacrificing an absolutely innocent person along the way, the hero realizes that he no longer has any desires.
The Meaning of Roadside Picnic
Roadside Picnic is a strong and tough book, and it’s about people first and foremost. And specifically – about the path of a person to his happiness. And the bitter lesson of this book is that happiness is a myth. People do not know if it is possible to achieve it, and if someone achieves it, they do not see it. It is no coincidence that the main character is an ordinary, not the worst and not the best person who finds himself in too cruel conditions of existence. He just wanted to survive at all costs. But in this endless struggle, Redrick completely lost himself, became cynical and embittered.
Therefore, this story is not about aliens and their forgotten toys, although it was originally intended to be. This story is about the meaning and values of human life.
Analysis of the work “Roadside Picnic”
The whole story is built around the main character and his family. The four parts of the work consistently guide the reader along the life path of Redrick Shewhart.
At first, everything is still not so fatal – the hero tries to live like everyone else, works at the Institute and even believes that the Zone can bring good and light to all mankind.
At the end of the journey, Shewhart is a devastated man with a spiritual rift and a personal tragedy.
The authors highlight for us the main milestones that so abruptly turned the life of the hero. First, it was the death of Kirill Panov, a man who had a strong and, most importantly, positive influence on Shewhart. Then there is the progressive mutation of his daughter. And to top it all – the appearance of the father – the walking dead.
The culmination is the sortie for the Golden Ball. Here Shewhart is shown by the authors as a cold machine, a prudent stalker – a “vulture” who leads a “master key” to the Zone in advance – a man to be slaughtered.
But the Strugatskys still believe in people. Otherwise, that moral upheaval would not have happened to the hero in this last, most terrible campaign. Even before he allowed the most impossible cruelty, a timid hope to fix everything arose in the stalker’s soul. How he wanted to change everything, and especially after the irreparable did happen.
And here we see how an embittered, cruel person who has sunk to the very bottom asks absolute power not for money, not power, not even revenge for his enemies or health for his loved ones. And he asks “happiness for everyone for free, and let no one leave offended.”
What did the authors mean by writing such an unexpected ending in the book?
Some of the answers are in the history of the creation of the story.
The history of the creation of the work “Roadside Picnic”
According to Boris Strugatsky, the idea for the plot came to him and his brother when they were walking through the woods and stumbled upon the remains of a picnic of some motorists.
In the brilliant minds of writers, such an insignificant event grew into a well-defined situation – and this is how the Zones and their various garbage appeared.
Also, the prototype of the story is the earlier story of the brothers “The Forgotten Experiment”. According to the plot, in Siberia, as a result of an experiment with a “time engine”, a radiation release occurred and a territory with various anomalies was formed, which was closed from the rest of the world.
The authors began writing the story in the winter of 1970. These were difficult times for them.
Just then, a scandal erupted over the publication of The Tale of the Troika abroad in an anti-Soviet magazine. In fact, the brothers were literally trampled into the mud.
And now, against the backdrop of feeling their human impotence, in order to feel like writers and just people again, the Strugatskys furiously begin to write their new book – a book about an incomprehensible and inexplicable Zone that breaks people’s lives, a book about survival in an incredibly rigid system and striving for the ghostly and unattainable happiness.
The story was finished in the winter of 1971, but it was published only once in 1972 in the Aurora magazine, and after that it was not published in our country until the 80s of the XX century.
At the same time, the book was appreciated by foreign critics, and for its creation, the Strugatskys in 1978 became honorary members of the Mark Twain Society for “outstanding contribution to the science fiction genre.”
The meaning of the name “Roadside Picnic”
The title of the story was born almost immediately. Let us recall the picnic in the forest that the authors saw, and the picnic that the Nobel Prize-winning scientist describes in the third part of the book.
Gatherings on the side of the forest, after which either garbage or forgotten things remain. And the next day, the animals come out of their holes and look with horror at the consequences of this feast.
Slightly change the angle of view, and here it is – our entire civilization – just a roadside for a picnic of aliens. And the animals, undoubtedly intelligent, but very limited, are all of humanity. And it turns out that people are not at all the crown of creation, but just the lowest link, which is not worth attention?
But at the same time, the life of the protagonist can also be safely considered a roadside picnic. Shewhart always opposed himself to society, fought furiously not to be in the system, and as a result, the system ruthlessly threw him over the sidelines, like unnecessary waste material.
This is the main problem that the authors have laid in their work.
The problems of the work “Roadside Picnic”
This story only at first glance can be attributed to science fiction. More and more critics are inclined to believe that this book is a social fantasy, since people are in the lens of writers in every episode.
The zone is only a background that highlights one of the most urgent problems of mankind – the problem of confrontation between man and society as a rigid totalitarian system.
The protagonist is a strong extraordinary personality who is trying with all his might to isolate himself from the system. More than anything, he wants to be different from everyone else, he wants to be free and not depend on anyone. It is for this reason that he goes to the Zone, because only there does he feel truly in his place. Along the way, Shewhart understands that the whole world needs to be changed, and at the same time he realizes his insignificance and all the futility of his life.
And such a desperate, at the limit of his strength, a person finds a magical golden ball that fulfills wishes. And the authors paint an even more terrible picture – the hero has no thoughts, no desires, he simply does not know what to ask from this almighty deity or omnipotent machine …
This is the true tragedy of a person who survives in society. In pursuit of their own happiness and material wealth, people lose the ability to think, cease to be people and become only animals that look at this whole picnic from the forest.
The meaning of the Roadside Picnic ending
In this light, the open ending of the work is quite logical. We don’t know exactly what happened to the main character, did his wish come true, and in general, did Shar hear his wish and understand it? Is happiness possible for free and for everyone?
Everyone decides all these questions for himself, making adjustments for the cruelty of our world.
Undoubtedly, such an end can be regarded as a recognition of the impotence of people to change something. It is very difficult to change the real world and the existing order of things, and the Golden Ball will not help in this.
But still, the authors leave us hope. The Strugatskys believe in the inner strength of people, that secret human desires are much better and purer than explicit ones. Therefore, even the most cynical and gutted by the system person can sincerely wish happiness for everyone, and suddenly it will come true …
Roadside Picnic is a multi-layered, deep and philosophical parable. It is difficult to evaluate the whole idea of the authors and everything that they would like to convey to the readers. But, undoubtedly, the book makes you think about the basic values of life, the truth of the human path and the place of each person in this world.
The authors urge people not to chase only for big money, always find a place in their lives for eternal values, to be not just cogs in the system, but also thinking whole individuals.
And, perhaps, then, if the Golden Ball suddenly falls from the sky, people will clearly know what to wish for.
I hope I have helped you find the meaning of the book “Roadside Picnic”, as well as understand its ending. If you have a different vision of the book – write your own version in the comments.