Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pechorin and Friendship

With Part 2 of Mikhail Lermontov's 'A Hero of Our Time,' we see the intriguing character of Pechorin in what ends up becoming a competition of sorts over the Mary between himself and Grushnitsky.  However, a more minute detail of the chapter really seems to reveal an important side of Pechorin's unusual personality.  At the beginning of May 13th, he is talking to Doctor Werner, and as he describes it, they become acquaintances.  While that would be fine and dandy in a normal social situation, it is Pechorin's further description that proves interesting, as he claims to be "incapable of friendship" (Lermontov, 79).  This could be perceived as a character flaw in some ways, as maybe it shows that Pechorin is socially unable to extend himself or adapt to certain situations, resulting in an unwillingness to even face them in the first place by never becoming friends with people.  However, I do not feel that this introverted view of him is necessarily correct.  He is a cold character, but he does have social desires, and is more than willing to pursue them.  Of course, within this chapter, that social desire is women, and he certainly does go after them.

Instead, though, this lack of friendship is about a principle--that "of two friends, one is always a slave to the other," and that "[he] will never be a slave" (79).  This is a very interesting philosophy that really seems to get at the heart of Pechorin's peculiarities as a character, and maybe furthermore, is emblematic of what makes him such a unique and fascinating protagonist to read about.  This inherent cynicism is just not very common in protagonist roles in most forms of literature, and especially in contrast with Pytor of whom we read about in Pushkin's 'The Captain's Daughter.'  Pechorin's seemingly selfish, cynical attitude in life is on fully display as he pursues Mary in particular, as his attempts at getting her attention seem to be more in line with the idea that he wants her as an object, rather than as a person, especially since wanting her as a person would denote a friendship, which he is, of course, opposed to on principle.  Thus, we can see how this entire chapter is, even without going into much detail about his dynamic with Grushnitsky, incredibly revelatory of Pechorin's character and way of thinking.


  1. I've been curious about whether or not Pechorin is interested in Mary as an object or a person also. I think the answer is not so obvious as you say it is and, as someone else pointed out, it doesn't even seem like Pechorin is sure.

    Many of Pechorin's actions in the pursuit of Mary seem competitive but the way that he writes about her in his journal makes it seem like he's interested in her for reasons beyond just competition with Grushnitsky. I wonder whether Pechorin would say what he says about friendship about his relationship with Vera or Bela or Mary. I'm not convinced that wanting Mary "as a person" would actually "denote a friendship" for Pechorin. You know?

  2. You write, "he does have social desires." I couldn't agree with you more which is why I agree with Chris. When listening to Pechorin, we have to remember that he is the type of person who hides things from himself (and thus the reader). In some sense, he is uncomfortable with his more romantic side and uses the cynicism and clever teasing to reaffirm his self-created character.

    Two points give me this feeling. When talking with Werner, he says, "I never give away my secrets, I greatly like people to guess them, since that way I can always disown them when it suits me. However, you must give me a description of the mother and daughter. What are they like?" (pg. 81) For me, it apparent that he will always hide his emotions from everyone, including himself, just to keep a flexible opinion. But luckily, love and intrigue are slightly too powerful for that. He even slips and basically admits his intrigue to himself later on pg .114, where he says, "I hadn't seen her [the first admission of attachment]. She's ill [the cover up for his own mind]. Perhaps I've fallen in love myself? [the affirmation of his affection] What nonsense! [again the protection for himself and his self-created and indulgent character]"

    Nevermind the part where he says "I do not love you" (pg. 123) -- that is simply the result of him putting protection over his own heart. You're right, he doesn't want to a "slave" to another but he also struggles with being a slave to his own manufactured character within himself.

  3. Chris, I disagree. I think that wanting her as a person signifies some sort of rapport between the two, yet Pechorin openly states that he has "no desire to seduce" her and "would never marry" her (102). He goes on further on that page and the one after to discuss how he just sort of goes after her for the sake of doing it, claiming that Grushnitsky had nothing to be jealous of, and how it is satisfying just to destroy another's illusions just to tell him that he did so. He claims that "happiness is but gratified pride" (103), and really, it seems like pride is all he is after in his pursuit. His relationships with Vera and Bela are more debatable, but with Mary, I think it is very clear that he is just using her to satisfy his need for pride.

    Gabe, that is a very interesting way of looking at it. While I don't think that hiding his own secrets from others is necessarily hiding them from himself, he does certainly make his own character for himself. However, I interpreted that "fallen in love? nonsense!" quote to be a bit more sarcastic than anything, but then again, I buy into his characterization of himself as more realistic of his actual personality than you may, so that could explain our difference in interpretation. Nonetheless, the idea that he is teasing himself to reaffirm his character is a thought-provoking way of looking at Pechorin that I really like.