“Hero of Our Time” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Mikhail Lermontov Essay
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The two novels “Hero of Our Time” written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” written by Mikhail Lermontov will be compared for this World Literature Assignment (Comparative Study). The main characters of these two novels will be compared and distinguished. In “Hero of Our Time” the main character is Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin and the main character in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” is Ivan Denisovich (Shukhov).
The novel “Hero of Our Time” is composed of five short stories and is about the adventures of the main character Pechorin.
There are three main narrators in this novel, who are, the travel writer, Pechorin and Maxim Maximych. Lermontov has used three narrators so the readers can see three different perspectives making the reader see different views of the characters in the book. The reader also learns that the five short stories are not in chronological order. This makes it some what confusing for the reader but at the same time gets the reader really interested in the book. The story is about how Pechorin is struggling in the society he is living in and also at the same time struggling with himself. We find out his true feelings and thoughts in his journal where the reader feels sympathy for him. Pechorin to other characters in the book is never honest and sometimes is not in control of his emotions and actions. The aim of the author is to show the readers if Pechorin really is the hero of his time or not. This is very ironic since the lack of morality suggests that he is not a traditional hero.
The novel “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” is a description of one of Shukhov’s days in a labour camp where he has been sentenced for ten years. We learn how prison life is harsh and tough. In the labor camp it is all about surviving, comradeship (between the Prisoners) and corruption. The reader learns that the only free time Prisoners have is during their meals. The prison life has forced some people to change. An example of this is where one of the prisoners, Fetiukov, has become the type of man who would steal potatoes out of another man’s soup. The style of the novel is understated and straightforward. Solzhenitsyn has written this book very descriptively. Everything has been described accurately so the reader can imagine and visualize the surroundings. An example of this is when Shukhov is describing the mess hall:
“The mess-hall seemed as usual, with clouds of vapour curling in through the door and men sitting shoulder to shoulder like seeds in a sunflower”1
This novel is written in the 3rd person form but we see through Shukhov’s eyes. We get to know him as a first person so we get a broad perspective of him and also others, how they look at Shukhov. We show respect to Shukhov since he is surviving the cold harsh conditions.
“The cold stung. A murky fog wrapped itself round Shukhov and made him cough painfully”
In the labour camp the authority treats the prisoners like animals where Shukhov treats them as comrades. Shukhov’s one day in the labour camp is representing the lives of millions of people who were sent to labor camps during Stalin’s regime.
If we look at Pechorin’s characteristics we learn that he has the characteristics of a Byronic Hero. This can be said by looking at his behaviour, he is sulky, creates the sense of mystery, is isolated from the society and also rebels against social niceties of the time. “A Hero of Our Time” involves women. Pechorin is scared to get in love or make any kind of commitment with any women since a fortune teller once told his mother that he would die when he gets married. Pechorin thinks about this and tries to avoid it, thus he makes excuses for not making any commitments with women. The reader gets the feeling that he is irrational, although it’s clean-cut that he has an ambivalent character. Pechorin is a person who contradicts himself. He sets out to do something and at the end does the total opposite of it. This shows that he can be misleading.
“I lied, but I wanted to bait him. I was born with a passion for contradiction. My whole life has been nothing but a series of dismal, unsuccessful attempts to go against heart or reason”
Pechorin can be described as a womanizer since he likes to play against women’s emotions and use them so they can benefit him and fulfill his personal desires. He gets this satisfaction when he uses women, making him feel like a ‘hero’. The reader also learns that he is a character who can’t even be honest to himself. This is not always the case, for example when he writes in his journal he always tries to be honest. Pechorin is very self-analytical because he analyzes motives so we can see things from his perspective.
“I’ve always hated entertaining, but now every day my house is full of guests, dining, supping, gambling.”
Pechorin makes the reader also assumes that his mental break down will be from women.
Now if we look at the characteristics of Shukhov, we learn that Shukhov is a prisoner of war in a labor camp. Life is very hard, just one day of his life shows so much about the living standards he is living in. Shukhov is a disciplined person and has not lost his civilized behaviour, like for example he would always take his cap off while eating even when it’s freezing. Similarly Pechorin also has pride but his pride is his self-respect and his arrogance, mostly superficial things. The low living standards have made Shukhov enjoy little things for example building a wall, smuggling a piece of hacksaw blade so he can make a knife out of it. The most important characteristic about him is that he is a very honest man especially to his comrades. He gives them respect and realizes like him he should not be here. The strong bond between his friends makes him want to live on. Comradeship is essential because without comradeship in the labor camp, surviving would be really difficult. Shukhov’s pride and dignity has been taken away from him and he only thinks of surviving this labor camp. In the labor camp his better days are when he gets extra food and has not ended up in the lock-up. He sometimes thinks positive and thinks about the future that there is still some hope. He hopes to meet his family which is waiting for him.
If we compare the two characters we see that Shukhov has a much stronger bond with his comrades/friends than Pechorin has with his friends. Shukhov has to have friends in order to survive in the prison because if he doesn’t he would be even more mentally broken down. The bond of friendship makes him live on in that dreadful prison. It can also be said that Shukhov is a person who we can respect and who also shows respect to others.
There is also a similarity between the two characters which is that they were/are both soldiers. This means that they have both encountered war and seen the dreadful sides of it. Another important similarity between them is that they are both shaped by society and the time that they live in. Although Shukhov is in prison and Pechorin isn’t the reader feels that Shukhov still has more freedom. This is because Shukhov is a person who won’t hurt anyone and respect everyone. In return he is also trusted and no one has ever hurt him before. The reader feels that Shukhov has inner peace and that he is a kind of freedom. On the other hand Pechorin does not have that inner peace which Shukhov has this is because he is a selfish person thinking only of his desires. Since Shukhov is in prison he has the freedom of his political ideas and these cannot be punished since he is already in prison. This again shows how Shukhov has the freedom to do this but Pechorin doesn’t.
It can be concluded that Shukhov has a stronger character than Pechorin. This is because Shukhov is in general a pleasant person who respects everyone. He is a civilized man and always thinks how he could survive the rest of the years so he can go back to his family. Pechorin is quite opposite to Shukhov, he has a weak character. This is because he is not trustworthy even at times not to himself because he contradicts him self a lot. It can be felt that Shukhov is the greater hero of his time since he makes the reader sympathise for him without creating sympathy. But Pechorin wants the readers to sympathise for him by explaining his feelings, emotions and actions all the time.
1) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (2000): One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Penguin Classics; England
2) Mikhail Lermontov (2001): A Hero of Our Time, Penguin Classics; England
1 “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Penguin Classics Edition (2000), England, page 118
2 “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Penguin Classics Edition (2000), England, page 23
3 “A Hero of Our Time”, Mikhail Lermontov, Penguin Classics (2001), England, page 77
4 “A Hero of Our Time”, Mikhail Lermontov, Penguin Classics (2001), England, page 84