“A Hero of Our Time… is indeed a portrait but not of a single individual; it is a portrait composed of all the vices of our generation (Nabokov 16). Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time concentrates on Pechorin, an arrogant and manipulative military officer, who Lermontov considers typical for his generation. The novel takes place in 19th century Russia when Tsar Nicholas I reined. Literature at this time was constricted to the portrayal of life only approved by the Tsar.
Lermontov’s superfluous man, therefore, was revolutionary and sparked a lot of controversy as people were “offended that such an immoral person as the Hero of Our Time should be set as a model to them. ” In the authors preface Lermontov criticizes readers who only see his work in the literal sense and do not understand the purpose of his main character, who points out the flaws in Russian society and is more complex than his outward appearance.
Lermontov uses alternating points of view, in the narratives, to compel the reader to understand Pechorin as a whole, by allowing his character to be gradually revealed from the heroic description of him, to his self-serving actions, and finally to his unstable nature. ?In the first story, “Bela” readers meet Pechorin through a third-hand account; the narrator recalls Maksim’s tale of him. Maksim describes Pechorin as a noteworthy character: “a charming fellow he was, I can assure you, but a little odd (Nabokov 23).
Maxim places Pechorin on a pedestal, describing him as someone “to whom it is assigned… to have all sorts of extraordinary things happen to them” (Nabokov 23). He believes Pechorin was destined for a life of adventure and he admires Pechorin’s exuberant, larger-than-life character and his drive to chase his passions. Maxim’s portrait of Pechorin, lends one to characterize him as a noble or heroic figure. This positive picture is quickly destroyed in the same narrative as Maxim describes Pechorin’s interaction with a woman named Bela.
After bargaining for Bela and desperately trying to win her over, “his face did not express anything unusual” (Nabokov 54) when she dies. This troubles Maksim, because if he were in Pechorin’s place he would “have died of grief” (Nabokov 54). Maksim cannot understand how Pechorin can seem so indifferent about someone, he assumed Pechorin loved, after she dies. Pechorin does not show emotion when confronted with grief, leaving readers with the sense of his Byronic nature. ?In the second story, “Maksim Maksimych”, the narrator comes face to face with Pechorin, giving readers a first-hand account of him.
There is still a sense of admiration when the narrator describes Pechorin’s physical appearance; “broad shoulders [which] testified to a sturdy constitution” and “dazzling clean linens which bespeaks the habits of a gentleman” (Nabokov 60-61). However, there is an underlying tone off suspicion around his personality, as the narrator explains “he did not swing his arms – a sure sign of a certain resistance of nature,” and “[his eyes] never laughed when he was laughing” (Nabokov 61).
These images compel the reader to begin examining Pechorin more closely and lead them to have suspicions that he might possess “a wicked nature or a deep and constant melancholy” (Nabokov 61). This notion is confirmed when Pechorin brushes off Maksim’s jubilant reunion, deeming him unworthy of his time; “I have nothing to tell you, Maksim… and now I must say good-bye, time for me to leave, I am in a hurry” (Nabokov 63). Pechorin completely disregards Maksim, leaving him sad and cross. He does not take the time to worry about and old friend even as “a tear of vexation [sparkled]… on [Maksim’s] lashes” (Nabokov 64).
When those around him are in pain, Pechorin goes on with his life, showing the reader how egocentric he is. As readers start to comprehend Pechorin’s character, the novel shifts to his point of view, allowing the reader to become immersed in his mind through his journals “Princess Mary” and “The Fatalist. ” Pechorin is ambivalent, his character is fragmented; he states “I have already surpassed [the] period in a soul’s life when it seeks only happiness… now I want to be loved” (Nabokov 94). Pechorin makes it seem that he is ready for a relationship and an emotional connection with someone.
However, at the end of “Princess Mary” he contradicts himself when he explains, “however much I may love a woman, if she only lets me feel that I must marry her – farewell to love” (Nabokov 137). This contradiction shows he feels desire but not love and he possesses the common trait of chasing a girl he does not have and then getting bored of her. He follows his admiration of beauty blindly, leaving behind those he discards. Pechorin even admits “[his] love brought happiness to no one, because [he] never gave up anything for the sake of those whom [he] loved. He] loved for [himself], for [his] pleasure” (Nabokov 145).
These pleasures cause the downfall of those in his life, and in the last novella readers see the effects of his loneliness. Pechorin begins to question whether his life is a result of predestination or his decisions. After Vulich tests fate Pechorin follows suit, risking his life to capture a drunk Cossack. He then questions “How can one escape becoming a fatalist? But then how can a man know for certain whether or not his is really convinced of anything? ” (Nabokov 173).
Pechorin reveals his uncertain nature and discloses to the reader his unreliable character which accounts for his actions throughout the novel. The title of the novel, A Hero of Our Time, explains how most people who encounter Pechorin view him. Physically he gives off the impression of a noble gentleman, and people perceive him as a free spirit not tied down by the commitment of a relationship, and able to live his life to the fullest. However the fundamental message of the novel is that Pechorin is a tragic figure, not a hero.
His selfishness and isolation causes him to chase indulgences that will not fulfill him in the end, and the narrative structure slowly reveals this. When the story is told through Pechorin’s journals readers see him as a man wanting personal freedom and being content having no friends and no love. Pechorin’s self-serving and contradictory nature allows him to become the definition of a Byronic hero. Readers learn Pechorin dies on his way to Persia, after his interaction with Maksim. Although the circumstances are unknown, Lermontov suggests that such a life as Pechorin’s is not fulfilling and ends in tragedy.