Russian Novels Essay, Research Paper
Youth is the time when each builds himself up so the world may shoot him back down. Every little boy is told that he has the ability to do whatever he wants. As he grows older, however, he will realize this is not true. Though one may exert all, he is still bound to fail at reaching certain aims. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, Ivan Turgenev, in Fathers and Sons, and Yevgeny Zamyatin, in WE, tap into this universal theme. Each of the aforementioned authors uses the motto represented in a quote from Crime and Punishment, “…the destruction of the present for the sake of the better,” as a goal whose insatiability leads to a main character’s devastation.
Dostoevsky’s psychologically analytical Crime and Punishment follows what happens to Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov after he murders Alyona Ivanovna, a disgusting old pawnbroker. Raskolnikov wrote an article on his theory that “supermen” may use any faculty necessary, including committing horrendous crimes, to alter society for the best. To test himself for this ability, Raskolnikov plans and carries out the murder of Alyona, though he kills her sister, too, with the idea of distributing the ancient woman’s riches to people who could make good use of it. Soon after, Rodya becomes severely ill, remaining in bed for many days. His article, which mentioned that those who were not supermen would feel very guilty and punish themselves, now proved its writer to be ordinary. “…they castigate themselves, for they are very conscientious: some perform this service for one another and others chastise themselves with their own hands….They will impose various public acts of penitence upon themselves with a beautiful and edifying effect;” After many torturous weeks, Raskolnikov finds his salvation in Sonia, a religious prostitute, and turns himself in to deal with his crime in Siberia.
Rodion thought himself to be that one-in-a-million who could change the world, excusing his crime for the greater good. The murder of the putrid Alyona Ivanovna was a destruction of the present. That is not to say that Rodya enjoyed killing Alyona, but that, according to him, her death was necessary in order for society to progress. Rodya becomes very afraid and ill, however, and never disburses the money to those on the streets, instead hiding it under a rock. The evil was eliminated so that good could be done, which, once the money was hidden, would not occur. Raskolnikov was unable to improve society from his deed, rendering him an ordinary man. Being ordinary, Rodya was overcome with grief and guilt. His sickness did not go away, and he lived on the verge of insanity. The pinnacle of Raskolnikov’s desolation comes as he bows down at the crossroads, an act which he earlier mentioned to be of an ordinary, ashamed man. After turning himself in and being expelled to Siberia, Raskolnikov still does not realize fully that he is not extraordinary. Raskolnikov believes that, since his murder should have been allowed, the courts were the party at fault. “Oh, how happy he would have been if he could have blamed himself!” comments the narrator. After suffering so much guilt, though, Rodya does finally understand his commonness and realize his goal is unattainable. “‘…many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.’” With the realization that he is ordinary and the original goal thus impossible, his self-destruction stops and he can heal with Sonia.
Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons compare the ideas born to each generation. Evgeny Vasilich Bazarov is a nihilist, or one who refutes society’s standards, believing in nothing. He and his admirer, Arkady Nikolaevich Kirsanov, after visiting Arkady’s home, make their way to the city and then to Nikolskoe, the house of a rich widow. Anna Sergeevna Odintsova’s estate, which is dedicated to order, presents problems for Bazarov, who’s belief’s were (historically speaking) a reaction to standards and rule. “This was facilitated in part by the order she’d established in her house and in her life. She adhered to it very strictly and forced others to submit as well…Bazarov didn’t care for this regimented, somewhat imperious punctuality in everyday life; ‘it’s as if everything moved along rails,’ he said.” After admitting his love to Odintsova and being rejected, Bazarov is infected with typhus and dies bitterly at home.
Bazarov often discusses how the current system should be destroyed, though he knows not what can replace it. After losing arguments over his theory with Pavel Petrovich, Arkady’s uncle, finding Odintsova presents a new challenge and a new opportunity to destroy the present and guide her in the “right” direction. As to her offensively strict order, “Once he aired his views on this subject to Anna Sergeevna.” However, through their long discussions and countless hours together, Bazarov develops a strong love for her. “‘Then you should know that I love you, stupidly, madly…Now see what you’ve extracted.’” To destroy something loved is unspeakable, and Bazarov cannot bring himself to ruin his beloved Odintsova and her order, so he leaves for home. Since destruction of the present is now impossible, Bazarov’s original aim (to destroy the present so there can be better ) cannot be satisfied. “‘If you like a woman,’ he used to say, ‘try to gain your end; if that’s impossible —well, never mind, turn your back on her…’” The forced abandonment of a goal Evgeny Vasilich has worked so hard for leaves him depressed and lethargic, not wishing to endure life. He is soon devastated by typhus, dying at home.
Zamyatin’s early Utopian novel, WE, follows forty journal entries in the life of D-503, the builder of the Integral, a vessel which will bring undeveloped worlds the knowledge of the One State. When he becomes involved with I-330, his world of math and logic turns upside down and fills with Ö-1, the irrational. I-330 is an anarchist intent on bringing down this “perfect” world and reintroducing reality. She and the Mephi, some of whom live beyond the Green Wall which separates nature from the One State, attempt to hijack the Integral and stop its mission, though the plan fails. I-330 seductively convinces D-503 that the utopia is corrupt, and though he believes at first, D becomes confused and returns to the Benefactor, the leader, after the Green Wall is bombed. The rebels are put down and sent to the Machine, where they will die.
I-330 has made it her life’s work to destroy the Benefactor and his standard world. On the Day of Unanimity, when all vote for the Benefactor, she arranges that many also vote against him, voting instead for the better that could exist. “‘Do you understand —I do not know, no one knows —tomorrow is the unknown!
Do you understand that everything known is finished? Now all things will be new, unprecedented, inconceivable.’” As the next day dawns, however, nothing has changed. However, I-330 is very ambitious and makes another attempt by trying to hijack and hold the Integral hostage, which also fails, more miserably than the other. The final try destroys much of the present situation. “‘Do you realize? —the Wall, the Wall was blown up! You un-der-stand?…Oh-ho —we are acting!’” comments one of the Mephi. Although there it would seem like the utopia had been desecrated, the chaos lasted only a short while before the strict Benefactor again had rule, even requiring removal of each person’s imagination, including D-503. This iron fist will not allow for any more destruction and I-330 has been detained. Her goal is no longer attainable, and she deteriorates. They try to get her to talk through torture. “Then she was placed under the Bell…they began to pump the air out of the Bell…she was pulled out, then quickly restored with the aid of electrodes…This was repeated three times —and still she did not say a word. Others…began to speak after the very first time. Tomorrow they will all ascend the stairs to the Benefactor’s Machine.”
One main character in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s WE adopts the motto presented in the quote, “…the destruction of the present for the sake of the better,” as a goal whose later impossibility results in that character’s mental or physical annihilation. Raskolnikov is not allowed to destroy the present because of his commonness, and he becomes severely ill and guilt ridden. Bazarov is faced with his inability to destroy order when he loves she that uses it, and becomes infected with typhus. I-330 cannot desecrate the One State because of the strict rule enforced by the Benefactor, and is killed for her crimes against Reason. Without the unattainable goal, the above novels could not have moved forward as well in plot, and would maybe not be on the “universal appeal” shelf of the corner bookstore.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment trans. Constance Garnett (1866; New York: Bantam Books, 1981) 243.
Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons, ed. & trans. Michael R. Katz (1862; New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996) 69.
Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE, trans. Mirra Ginsburg (1927; New York: Avon Books, 1987) 146.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. 1866. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.
Turgenev, Ivan. Fathers and Sons. Ed. & Trans. Michael R. Katz. 1862. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Zamyatin, Yevgeny. WE. Trans. Mirra Ginsburg. 1927.