It seems that today every movie and every TV show features at least one Russian character, where they are portrayed as vile, violent, and uncultured criminals who represent just a small obstacle on the main hero’s path to a greater good (or a teenage hacker, you pick). However, mainstream TV representation is the furthest thing from accurate and more often than not, can be diminishing. Throughout history, great Russian authors have been trying to capture the essence of the Russian soul and its versatility. Below are some of the most remarkable works in the golden fund of Russian literature.
A Hero of Our Time
The great literary genius Mikhail Lermontov is known not only as an outstanding poet but also as a genius writer who created many prose works. One of the writer’s greatest pieces is his novel – A Hero of Our Time – which reflects the historical events of the 19th century and the complex psyche of the hero, who became a truly remarkable representative of that era.
The main theme of A Hero of Our Time is a superfluous man. The main character, Pechorin, is much smarter and more far-sighted than the others, but this is his problem. The people around him may not be so intelligent and sophisticated, but they live with real feelings: they love, suffer and sympathize. Pechorin considers himself above all this: he is a cold, calculating, and cynical young man, not subject to emotions.
The meaning of A Hero of Our Time is an indicative display of the era, a warning to the future generation. This is a vivid example of how you can be an intelligent, educated person, but lose yourself and the essence of your existence.
The problem of Pechorin’s relations with society reveals different facets of his character. The hero evokes both antipathy and sympathy for his personality, and this is where the psychologism of the entire work as a whole manifests itself.
Crime and Punishment
The works of Fyodor Dostoevsky are read all over the world, and they still have not lost their relevance. Crime and Punishment is one of such eternal works, touching upon the themes of faith and disbelief, strength and weakness, humiliation and greatness. The author masterfully draws the setting, immerses the reader in the atmosphere of the novel, helping to better understand the characters and their actions, making the readers ponder over important life questions.
Despite the focus on Christianity, I believe, Crime and Punishment contains deep insights on the role of religion and faith in human life in general.
The problem of false beliefs, touched upon in the novel, is relevant at all times. The theory about permissiveness and the possibility of committing a crime for good purposes that the main character, Raskolnikov, was subject to is destructive. It is this theory that is the cause of arbitrariness, violence, and terror in the novel.
Fyodor Dostoevsky reveals in his novel that happiness in a person’s life is possible only if they follow Christian principles, have faith in God, and do good. It is this that will fill life with meaning, not at all the struggle for power and cruelty. Despite the focus on Christianity, I believe, Crime and Punishment contains deep insights on the role of religion and faith in human life in general.
Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons is set before the abolition of slavery in Russia. It reveals many problems, one of which is the conflict of different age generations wherein a new type of dissenting people appears, denying both state orders and moral values. In the novel, Ivan Turgenev introduces this type of a new person under the name “nihilist”.
The main idea of the book is to present the reader with a serious choice – to understand what is important for the further development of life – lazy contemplation of what is happening, or the struggle for a new, progressive future.
The two main characters of the novel are Bazarov and Kirsanov. Bazarov is a typical representative of a new generation that denies the old world. Kirsanov is an ardent adherent of the old values, a hereditary nobleman. Patriarchal foundations are close and clear to him through which he sees the meaning of life.
The meaning of Fathers and Sons is not only family relations. Fathers and sons represent adherents of new and old views, who judge ongoing changes in society from their own points of view.
The main idea of the book is to present the reader with a serious choice – to understand what is important for the further development of life – lazy contemplation of what is happening, or the struggle for a new, progressive future. It can be concluded that Turgenev’s book has an educational goal: the main thing is to understand its essence, and the choice depends on each individual reader, the author only pushes for the correct decision, without imposing his opinion.
The main theme of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is the vices and customs of society and the life of a Russian person in the 19th century. The problems that the author raises in the poem are as old as the world, but they are shown and revealed subtly and on a large scale.
The meaning of the phrase “dead souls” is twofold: the act of selling dead serf souls, rewriting them and transferring them to another owner, and the image of those people involved in the business – their souls are dead, the heroes are deeply spiritless, vulgar and immoral.
The main character, Chichikov, buys from the landowners of the long-dead, but still listed serfs, which he needs only on paper. Thus, he plans to get rich by getting paid for them by the board of trustees. The interaction and cooperation of Chichikov with the same swindlers and charlatans like himself becomes the central theme of the poem. The desire to get rich by any means is relevant for not only Chichikov but also for many heroes of the poem – this is the disease of the century. What Gogol’s poem teaches lies between the lines of the book – adventurism and craving for “light bread” are peculiar to the Russian person.
On the last note, I think it is imperative to mention that many analytical points in this article were inspired by obrazovaka.ru, which also saved my pathetic soul during countless analytical essays for a Russian Literature class in high school. Of course, the website is in Russian, but you have to pay respect where respect is due. For all Russian-speaking readers, I strongly advise visiting the website for thorough analyses of complex literary works of great Russian authors.
Cover: Alfons Morales
Edited by: Carolina Alves