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There is a youthful energy to this text that is really a series of five stories bundled together into a whole that some call a marvelous psychological novel. What do we learn about Pechorin in each section as we see him through three sets of eyes (Maksim’s, the narrator’s, and his own)? Is he heroic, extraordinary, self-absorbed, attractive or repulsive?

Be sure to watch some of the youtube videos for a sense of the Time and Place. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwy9PPE4Z_I&feature=related

14 Responses to “A Hero of (Y)our Times?”

  1. Russell Jacobs says:

    So Pechorin clearly has a kind of sociopathic “cool” about him that works both towards and against his credibility as a hero. It’s hard not to be a little taken in by his personality in a hybrid of fascination and repulsion but, to avoid repeating everything people have said above (and I agree with much of it, certainly) I guess I’d like to point out something I noticed that I thought was interesting. There seems to be this implication in the text, both in the conversations between Maxim Maximych and the narrator and in Pechorin’s own reflection in his diaries, that Pechorin’s cold indifference is the product of European education in Russia. Maximych and the narrator discuss the battle-worn jadedness of Russia’s younger generation (“disenchantment” is the word they use, which seems to indicate a sort of distance from romanticism) and Maxim says “I suppose it was the French who started this fashion of being bored?” Our narrator replies “No, the English” (36). Either way, the implication is that a European mentality has somehow infected the up-and-coming generations of Russians for the worse. When Pechorin is discussing “breeding in a woman” in the Taman section, one of his more distasteful moments, he says that understanding women in this fashion is “a discovery first made by Young France” a group of French intellectuals in the 1830s. The implication that a new generation is being spoilt by European ideas is not going to be left alone when we finish with A Hero of Our Time. This book seems almost like a prelude to Crime and Punishment wherein, it could be argued, the whole point is that European educations ruin young Russians.

    I also was uncertain how to feel about Pechorin’s understanding of these “honest smugglers.” From the impression he gives in his diary, they seemed pretty malicious and tricky and yet the final scene on the beach is certainly emotionally charged and earns them some sympathy. Do we see a reflection of Pechorin’s elusive value as a hero in them?

  2. Anna Mackey says:

    Like Alex, I believe that Pechorin is not a hero by a typical Western definition where we expect our heroes to always be doing something, achieving something, but by doing nothing, Pechorin actually offers deeper psychological commentary. When Pechorin talks of his disillusionment, of his constant boredom, and how his “soul has become spoiled by the world” (41), it is easy to quickly write Pechorin off as an ungrateful man, unaware of the joys of life because he has always been fortunate enough to have them present in his life, and has always had the agency to move on to the next (momentarily) satisfying thing. However, when I remember the title, “A Hero of Our Time”, I cannot help but relate with Pechorin. Haven’t I too become more disillusioned the more educated I’ve become? Don’t I too bore easily and selfishly even when I have the world at my disposal? Then in Book IV, “The Fatalist”, Pechorin clearly illustrates the plight of all people who have the time to actually reflect – our simultaneous view of life as pointless and unhappy, yet our utter fear of its “inevitable end” (85). Pechorin exemplifies to the extreme the human who was once a dreamer, then a thinker, who eventually wound up entirely fed up with life, yet still tirelessly seeks for what could make him happy. So to the question: is Pechorin heroic, extraordinary, self-absorbed, attractive, or repulsive? I would answer yes to them all.

  3. Laura Howard says:

    Lermontov’s choice of the word “our” in “A Hero of Our Time” is an interesting point brought up by Margaret. It is obvious that the “time” of the story– its chronological and social milieu — is an important aspect of the story and its characters. Pechorin is the main character, so the way that he fits into the social and political climate of his time is vital in determining whether or not he can be considered a “hero”.
    The point brought up that Pechorin is a psychological enigma also raises some questions. Pechorin is indeed a very flawed and complex character, yet the narrator does not allow the focus of the entire story to revolve around Pechorin’s drama or issues. Rather, he uses the setting, with its beautiful mountains, to evoke a counter-drama to the “hero”‘s tale. The narrator also makes profound psychological observations which serve to give the story a more “universal” appeal. His comment “you see how an occurrence insignificant in itself may have serious consequences . . . “, for instance, replaces any small-scale drama with the thought that maybe there is some bigger power that is managing all of this. Through three sets of eyes, we see different sides of Pechorin, yet we are also grounded by the “youthful energy” that is evident in the travelogue-type story. It could just be a repetition of events; instead, the story is changed and energized with each passing of the perspective of section.

  4. Katherine Burdine says:

    All moral qualities aside, to me the most salient characteristic of Pechorin is an inimitable, almost inexplicable charm. Despite being a capricious, selfish womanizer he manages to win the love of women like Bela and later Nastya and men like his colleague Maksim Maksimych. This despite kidnapping Bela and indirectly causing the death of her father and then treating Maksim Maksimych with the coldest and most blatant disregard imaginable. This undeniable charm surely encourages Pechorin’s selfishness; he can use people, especially women, and the they will keep coming back for more.

    Pechorin’s other most prominent characteristic is his perfect selfishness. He is childlike in that he sees only what he wants, and only one thing at a time. Unable or unwilling to weight the effects of his actions, he simply moves to snatch at the objects of his immediate desires, disregarding the consequences. He takes Bela for himself despite the terrible consequences for her and for her family. He is so focused on getting Undine (the girl at the seashore) that he totally disregards the suspicious circumstances surrounding their nocturnal meeting.

    A trait that Pechorin shares with other heros of Russian literature is his overriding apathy. He does what he does, adventuring, womanizing, and gambling not because he enjoys those activities but because he is trying to escape the sense of futility that fills his days. Empty inside, he passes his life searching for a real and lasting passion and that ultimate, hopeless desire makes him rather more pitiable than otherwise

  5. Margaret Fulford says:

    While I cannot pretend to know Lermontov’s motives in naming his literature, the title “Hero of our Times” strikes me particularly when I place emphasis on “our.” It seems to me that he could be emphasizing the difference between the Byronic sort of hero that is Pechorin, and the classical hero whose traits and actions are desirable. While many classical heroes had flaws in their characters, I classify Pechorin as a Byronic hero because he is “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” as Lord Byron was described. He exemplifies many of the typical traits of such a “hero”: he is intelligent, arrogant, cunning, self-destructive, struggling with integrity, bipolar/moody, etc.
    I thought it interesting that no matter which story you read, there are reasons to dislike or even hate Pechorin, but there are also always reasons to sympathize with him, even when he is painted in a most unfavorable light. The intent is certainly not for the reader to love him unconditionally, as we see the dangers and hopelessness of loving Pechorin in more than one of Lermontov’s stories, but I do believe that Lermontov wanted the reader to care about him. He was not a completely distasteful character by any means. While many of his actions and views are repulsive (particularly to me his low estimation of females) he is also a character that we can love to hate, and hate to love. He recognizes and acknowledges his own faults, which allows the reader to sympathize even if he does nothing to correct those faults. He knows that he is a destructive force and that he has hurt many people. His evil streak is found in his enjoyment of such activities (to me this is his second worst personality trait.) But as we see him described not only by himself but by others, we can see several facets of his character and experience both the attraction and repulsion that his personality evokes. To me this was the most interesting thing about Lermontov’s piece.

  6. Kelsey says:

    Lermontov’s stories investigate the psychology of this unpitiable character Pechorin from several different points of view and asks us to recognize all of his faults as present in ourselves and those around us, and forgive him. I think he is extraordinary, self-absorbed, attractive, and repulsive, fascinating as a character, but I would not call him heroic, and never brave. For all that Pechorin seems repulsive on the whole to us, it is surprising how little judgement is passed on him by those around him. Part of what I believe was repulsive to me was the extent to which he was allowed to get away with what he did. Maksim Maksimych says, I didn’t really like it, but what could I do about it? He seems to attracted to Pechorin, almost by his irrationality and stunts, to do anything about it. The writing also helps this, with Lermontov’s looser style of writing than Pushkin’s, a style that is ironic, cynical, and jaded itself, that has little to say about judging Pechorin. Even the fact that such time is devoted to such a character could suggest admiration, or as Lermontov says in the preface, an effort to show us what we as humans contain. But in the end, I believe, to be heroic, a character has to be more admirable than disgusting, all traits and actions included. Even accounting the fact that everyone is flawed, Pechorin can never be a hero.

  7. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I agree with Alexandra’s assertion that “Pechorin is Lermontov’s psychological enigma” but do not agree with her claim that Pechorin should be disqualified from being called a “hero”. In fact, I believe Pechorin is everything that Professor Beyer mentions (heroic, extraordinary, self-absorbed, attractive, and repulsive) as each trait is weirdly enough, not mutually exclusive.
    Like it has already been stated, our sentiments towards Pechorin change as the perspective (current narrator) changes. Because of this, through a specific lens and a specific scenario at specific point in time, Pechorin displays traits that contradict with traits in a separate lens, scenario, and point in time. And I think this is exactly the point of this “psychological novel”. A “real” hero is not archetypical because they are not relatable to anyone. A real hero does not live a uniform life maintaining each and every specific ideal, as it is impossible. (People will say their hero is their Dad, or Ghandi, or whatever…but these individuals, as every individual, has their faults, but we accept them) We choose facets of human behavior to concentrate our attention on, and call that specific trait, “heroic” to us. At first, Maksim saw Pechorin in large part as a hero (even though he frequently questioned Pechorin’s intents) because Pechorin lived up to certain ideals Maksim held. If Maksim had never encountered the cold and old-friend-forgetting Pechorin, this heroic label would have persisted, as seen be the level of admiration and excitement Maksim has at the prospect of reuniting with Pechorin. Alexandra says a hero “lives up to a certain ideal and possesses noble qualities that are admired by others”. The “confidence” and “honesty” that Pechorin displays and Alexandra mentions fit this very definition. That being said, Pechorin is repulsive at times, whether it be his insensitivity towards the disabled or treatment of Bela.
    The changes in narration perpetuate this notion that someone we deem a “hero” is not always a hero, and can in fact, display very un-heroic traits in a specific perspective in time. I believe what Lermontov is getting at, is that in certain conditions we still identify with this very person as being a hero. He appears to be exploring the extent to which we value certain human behaviors and how these values can be changed dramatically from one specific time and perspective, to the next. The “extent” that we personally decide on is the answer to the “enigma”.

  8. Melody Wang says:

    Through the complex constructs of layers of narrative frameworks, Pechorin still remains a mystery to me. Even though, just like Alexandra, I have trouble acknowledging Pechorin’s heroism in the tales we have read so far, speaking from the various narrators’ points of view, I can see Pechorin possessing of the mentioned qualities. In fact, I think my vague and irresolute impression of Pechorin has to do with the complicated narrative structures, consisting of: multiple narrative modes/forms, temporal dislocation, and a various mix of literary genres, and etc. I initially thought that the 2nd, 3rd person narrative modes combined with 1st person confessional and self-analytical mode would clarify and enrich my comprehensive understanding of Pechorin’s characters…I thought wrong. The constant shifts in the narratives also consistently shift my judgments of Pechorin. For instance, in “Bela”, I was initially struck by Pechorin’s deep sincerity and magnificent ability to love, especially in his attempt and patience to win over Bela, evident in his confession of “You see how I love you. I am ready to give up everything to make you cheerful once more I want you to be happy, and if you are going to be sad again, I shall die.”(24). Nevertheless, when Bela dies, the narrator depicts how Pechorin remains expressionless, “…at length he sat down on the ground in the shade and began to draw something in the sand with his stick” (49), and as the narrator “console[s] him”, he “raised his head and burst into a laugh”(49), and just as the narrator feels, “a cold shudder also ran through me” as well. However, afterwards, Pechorin get ill for a long time, and grew thin”, this suggests that Pechorin is not completely cruel and heartless. I do get the sense that Pechorin likes to be in denial. Just as Flora remarks, I find all of the narrators to be highly unreliable, because even though I often expect the 3rd person narrative to offer a relatively more objective view of the character, in this novel, the narrators, often times, recounts the story through random eavesdropping and encounters, in which I find quite episodic and unconvincing.

  9. Alexandra Siega says:

    I would not necessarily label Pechorin as a “hero” in any part of the portion we have read of “A Hero of Our Time.” The term “hero” implies that the character lives up to a certain ideal and possesses noble qualities that are admired by others. While Pechorin certainly invokes a reaction of admiration from his company, his many shortcomings—presented by the narrator of the first section, Maxim, and Pechorin himself—bar him from earning the title of a noble man. Pechorin is haughty, egotistical, and driven almost solely by pride. He is wealthy and has the world at his disposal, yet he feels the need to constantly toy with the lives of others. However, Lermontov keeps Pechorin’s motivations a secret, which cast a sense of mystery around his character that draws the reader to his cause. I do not approve of Pechorin’s attitude, but I admire his confident nature and as a result do not question his actions, however strange they may be. Pechorin is Lermantov’s psychological enigma dangled in front of the reader’s eyes, begging to be solved. I approve of Pechorin because of his self-assuredness; he in honest about his shortcomings (which are grand indeed), and does not attempt to hide his true nature in order to garner respect from others. His honesty and confidence earn him the title of a “great man,” even if his less dignified qualities disqualify him from being the hero.

    Because I have great respect for Pechorin’s greater attributes, I have to disagree with Flora’s comment about being appalled at his lack of insensitivity towards the blind boy. Perhaps I have a tendency to always give the protagonist the benefit of the doubt, but I appreciated more than rejected Pechorin’s honesty about his prejudices. By warning the reader about his prejudice he maintains his pride; honestly, I expected nothing less from the arrogant Pechorin. A less venerable character would hide such a fact from their audience even if it was true and it showed in his actions. The outright honesty allows the reader to connect more with the protagonist in a way that would be much more difficult if she were forced to read in between the lines.

    The multiple narrations also allow the reader to connect more easily with the characters. The different accounts of each event and character mimic the structure of a group of friends talking about another person. I gained a more complete and personalized view of Pechorin, for I was free of the partiality of a single source. Again, the honesty of each of the narrators plays a large part in formulating a more accurate view of Pechorin, for each narrator is honest and upfront about his biases against Pechorin, and Pechorin himself is open with his audience about his shortcomings.

    In addition, the three different narrators provide the reader with a very clear hierarchy of characters: the first narrator at the bottom of the list, Maxim in the middle, and Pechorin at the top. The novel first establishes Maxim’s superiority over the first narrator, for whom he feels a “profound respect:” the reader is immediately attracted to the mysterious, wise yet inviting stranger that our narrator meets on the road. (4) The reader’s attention is quickly turns to Pechorin, however, for Maxim introduces the man as “splendid… and a little peculiar.” (8) The arousal of curiosity that happens as a result of Maxim is intensified with the introduction of Pechorin, for we wonder about the “strange events” that have befallen the new character and forget about the increasingly familiar Maxim. The superiority of Pechorin over Maxim is doubled during “Bela,” and reaches a climax when Pechorin wholly rejects Maxim, who obviously anticipates their meeting with great fervor and is ultimately disappointed by his old friend’s indifference. We feel Maxim’s pain as he loses all semblance of equality he appeared to have to Pechorin during Bela’s tale, and pity Maxim for the loss of his old friend. Pechorin’s narration secures his position as the better character, particularly at the end of “The Fatalist,” when Maxim cannot follow Pechorin’s “metaphysical discourse.” (90)

  10. Juan Machado says:

    I’d argue that, in the first section at least, the characters’ behavior is not only a result of their nature, but also of nature itself. Pechorin is an eccentric character whose behavior is often unpredictable. Throughout Bela, however, the traveler and the staff-captain continuously make references to this foreign landscape and the influence it may exert on a person.

    When talking about a river that had risen so high it was uncrossable, the staff-captain alludes to the idea of environmental determinism: “Oh, this Asia, I know it! Like people, like rivers! There’s no trusting them at all!” (33). Earlier, the traveler claims that “when we retire from the conventions of society and draw close to nature, we involuntarily become as children” (30). Finally, the traveler also notes “the aptitude which the Russian displays for accommodating himself to the customs of the people in whose midst he happens to be living” (28).

    I only point these observations out because they are taken into account they make unclear whether Pechorin’s actions result from his nature or from living in this wild land of wild people, far from Russian civilization.

  11. Bryanna Kleber says:

    We learn about Pechorin from two outside perspectives initially before entering Pechorin’s mind through his diary. This strategy of Lemontov’s successfully allows the reader to gain a full perspective of Pechorin, which allows the reader to make up his/her own opinion about the man based on what they have been told by a variety of people’s observations and encounters. Lemontov offers a multitude of views of a multi-dimensional character that altogether, create a solid picture.

    In the first story, ‘Bela,’ we are being told a story about Pechorin by Maksim Maksimich. Maksim glorifies Pechorin in a sense, saying his appearance was outstanding and just a “fine” man. Albeit, Maksim does reveal that Pechorin does have some faults.

    In the second story, ‘Maksim Maksimich,’ the narrator is telling us about Pechorin. The narrator paints Pechorin in a much more negative light. The narrator, however, is not as close to Pechorin as Maksim. But, we learn that Pechorin thought nothing of causing Maksim to cry.

    The third story, ‘Taman,’ is when the third person for the past two books, Pechorin, becomes the first person. The reader is now seeing the world from Pechorin’s perspective via his diary. In his diary, we can see his vices come to life. Speculation or opinions about his nastiness and arrogance can be dropped because the first-hand account the reader is privy to now, the diary, confirms these beliefs. Pechorin writes, “I confess that I have a violent prejudice against all blind, one-eyed, deaf, dumb, legless, armless, hunchbacked, and such-like people.” (66)

    Contrary to the title of the novel and from what we have seen thus far, Pechorin is the antithesis of a hero. He never lives a fulfilling life. He enters relationships that never satisfy him, he does not have valuable friendships, and he even says that he is bored with life. “…You see, it is true enough, there are people like that, fated from birth to have all sorts of strange things happen to them!” (9) This quote is so ironic because although we don’t know how Pechorin died, we know he died at a young age on his way back from Persia.

  12. Flora Weeks says:

    Pechorin is portrayed much more as a hero in the first portion of the book, in the story relayed by Maksim, than in the next two sections. Although, this could easily be a trick of the narrator, with Maksim remembering fondly his time living with Pechorin and Bela. In any case, Pechorin is introduced through Maksim, as a strong male, able to win the heart of a beautiful woman and hold a household together. Maksim is puzzled by the change that comes over Pechorin, and why he is no longer in love with Bela at the end of the story, but it does not seem too unusual for a relationship to lose much of the energy it had in the early stages and become bland, and so in some way, Pechorin cannot be blamed for this.

    However, there is much less excuse for Pechorin’s utter lack of emotion at seeing an old friend for the first time in ages, and it is in this way that the reader is convinced of his extraordinary qualities.

    Because of the preceding tale of Pechorin and Maksim’s meeting, the reader is already thinking less highly of Pechorin, and is questioning his sentimentality, when beginning to read Pechorin’s journal. And so, as Pechorin starts describing his reactions upon meeting the blind boy, we are appalled at his reaction and insensitivity. This feeling also allows the reader to doubt many aspects of the story Pechorin writes in his journal, perhaps believing that because he is self-absorbed and arrogant, he is telling only a story that will make himself look good.

  13. Benjamin Kingstone says:

    Lermontov’s preface (or “preface and epilogue) aims to establish the narrative as a realistic one. Imperfect characters reflect reality. Heroes, he suggests, are meant to be flawed.
    In a way, reality is best represented in the narrative structure of this novel; the story unfolds like a series of Russian matryoshka dolls that continually open to reveal a different face. The arrangement of Lermontov’s chronicles differs from the natural chronology of the story. So we see Pechorin—our “hero”—through his diaries, the narrator, and Maxim Maximytch. The narrator of Bela resembles the reader: he asks too many questions, often interrupting the story. Maxim, in turn, reflects the grand storyteller—Lermontov; he asks for the audience’s “respect” and patience in this “perhaps, too lengthy story” ( 50). Third, Pechorin’s diary represents his own views.
    Maxim’s point of view presents an interesting, if not limited, consideration of Pechorin. For instance, when Pechorin and Maxim meet again (in Book II), the former appears reticent and is described as reaching his hand out “rather coldly” (58) to be seized by both of the latter’s eager hands. Maxim departs “alone” (62); Maxim tells us that Pechorin dies traveling to Persia.
    Pechorin’s diary—which occurs before this meeting—offers another vantage. Before his duel, he says to his second, casually, “Maybe I want to be killed.” In the superfluous duel, he offers Grushnitsky freedom in exchange for an apology. In a way, his murder of Grushnitsky represents his own death. Grushnitsky’s self-loathing and threats could equally apply to Pechorin. Pechorin possesses a keen self-awareness—the attentiveness and conscious intellect that characterizes every “hero.” In the end of “The Fatalist,” all he wants is to share his opinion on predestination with Maxim Maximytch, because he has learned something significant about his own courage. Ultimately, the reader is sympathetic to Pechorin because he accepts his weaknesses and temps “fate” (90) as only the reader himself wishes he could.

  14. Rouan Yao says:

    The tasteful manner in which Lermontov changes perspectives of Pechorin, in my opinion, is what makes the story so interesting. The first section, told from Maxim’s perspective, is used to establish the character whose portrait Lermontov attempts to paint. While the first section frames Lermontov’s protagonist in a fond and friendly manner, it is also told in a way which allows the reader to become aware of the downfalls of which character. For example, during this section we are told of his insatiability for the excitements of life, his indifference to hurting others, and most importantly, his indifference to Bela, all of which are disconcerting character traits.

    The second section tells the story from the narrator’s perspective, which is shed a much more negative light on Pechorin. Without the Maxim’s admiring lens, the narrator describes Pechorin as an overwhelmingly cold person. Although we have been previously told through Pechorin himself that he has a flaw in hurting others without feeling any remorse, the second section shows this trait in action. As the readers witness the indifference by which Pechorin treats his old friend and the resulting blow to Maxim’s emotions, it makes the reader withdraw from any previous admiration for the protagonist.

    The third section shifts the reader’s perspective entirely, to tell a story from Pechorin’s perspective. However, not only is this story different in its perspective, but also its theme. The third section, told in the guise of Pechorin’s diary, has elements of mysticism interwoven in its ultimately realistic narrative of smugglers. This introduces the suggestion that Pechorin although cold at times, thinks along the lines of mysticism. For example, the young man describes the woman he meets in Taman as a mermaid, and relates the rest of his story along the same shroud of mystery until the very end, when he concedes that all the mystery was attributed to the activities of ‘honest smugglers’. In addition to this, the reader finally is able to reach into Pechorin’s emotions: as he sits by the shore, listening to the blind boy cry about his fate, Pechorin writes that “a sadness came over me.” The empathy is unexpected from such a character, with the previous two sections providing the rough sketch of a cold, indifferent man.

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