Mikhail Lermontov

A Hero Of Our Time

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A Hero Of Our Time Summary

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A Hero of Our Time is a classic work of Russian literature written by Mikhail Lermontov and published in 1840. It exemplifies the “superfluous man” trope common in later literature in which a person of great talent and genius is unable to express these talents healthily due to societal circumstances of some kind.

It is divided into five parts with three major narrators. In the first story, a young soldier travels through the Caucasus Mountains documenting his movements for later. He meets an older, wizened soldier named Captain Maxim Maximych, who shows him the lifestyle of the troops in this region, and how to interact with the locals, the Ossetian tribesmen.

As they travel through the mountains together and subsequently seek shelter from a storm, Maxim tells the story of Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin, a younger officer and the central character of the book. Pechorin falls in love with a local chieftain’s daughter, Bella. He convinces her brother to kidnap her in exchange for a stolen horse. She falls in love with him eventually but is killed by the animal’s owner. Pechorin falls into a deep depression, becoming physically ill.

Maxim is the second narrator. In the second story, he and the unnamed narrator meet again. They encounter a rude servant and find out his master is a person named Pechorin. Maxim asks to meet him, but Pechorin is not happy to see him. Maxim had been carrying his diaries around for him, but it turns out that they mean nothing to Pechorin, and Maxim throws them to the floor. The unnamed narrator picks them up after both men leave.

Here, the unnamed narrator informs us that Pechorin is dead. He explains that the next few stories will come directly from Pechorin’s diaries, and he finds him to be an intelligent, introspective man. The journals are valuable because of Pechorin’s unrelenting honesty. He will only publish stories from Pechorin’s time in the Caucasus however, for reasons he cannot reveal to us.

Here we begin to hear from Pechorin himself. In the story “Taman,” he has a short stay in the coastal village of the same name but is unable to find lodgings. He stays in a hut by the sea. He asks to see the master of the house, but a blind boy tells him that the old woman is in the village. That night, he is unable to sleep and follows a shadow down to what appears to be a smuggling enterprise. When he threatens to reveal their activities to the authorities, the woman kisses him and attempts to drown him. He leaves the next day without telling anyone because he fears being humiliated.

In the next story, “Princess Mary,” Pechorin encounters an old acquaintance, Grushnitsky. They have no fond feelings for each other, and Pechorin decides to seduce Grushnitsky’s love interest. He feels this will be entertaining, and he will be able to communicate with a lost love, Vera, because she is part of Princess Mary’s inner circle. He wins her over despite having no feelings for her, and he and Grushnitsky duel. He kills Grushnitsky, but no one has a happy ending because he also loses Vera.

In the final story, Pechorin is in a  Cossack village. He and some of his peers are discussing predestination and share stories to both prove and disprove it. At one point, an old soldier fires a gun into his temple, but it misfires. They assume it must not have been loaded, but he fires again, and a bullet goes into the wall. Later, he dies when a Cossack slices him in half. Pechorin must apprehend the murderer, which he does at great peril to himself. He succeeds with only minor injuries.

In the last scene of the story, Maxim and Pechorin have a conversation as Pechorin recounts his experiences. He is disappointed because Maxim only offers shallow discourse and seems incapable of offering the deep conversation that Pechorin craves.

Part of Pechorin’s appeal is that he is an antihero. He displays many of the characteristics of a hero, bravery and wit for example, but he is also manipulative and cunning. He uses the characters in the story to entertain himself like pawns in a game. We know that the idea of the superfluous man indicates that if Pechorin had a better outlet for his talent and intellect, he might have accomplished great things, but he dies young after a series of adventures in the military.

Pechorin does not seem to love anyone and does not appear to care about anyone around him, though at points in the story we understand that he feels very deeply. When Bella dies, this is the catalyst for a complete breakdown and ultimately leads to his death. His ability to feel deeply is disguised by his manipulations and his seeming disregard for the experiences of life. He is bored, but he is affected by the events around him

Pechorin believes himself incapable of making friends, and as such distances himself from those who would consider him a friend. When he meets Maxim again, he is cold, and this breaks the man’s heart because he held Pechorin in high regard. Pechorin is unable or unwilling to connect deeply with these other people and as such leaves a trail of heartache behind him.

Pechorin remains a compelling character because of his flaws, and we end the novel with a sense of loss that he was never able to find a way to apply his talents. It is a shame when someone loses their sense of humanity and cannot regain interest in life.