A theme consistent throughout the Russian literature we have read is the superfluous man. We have discussed this topic a lot in class, and pretty much beaten it to death. But I want to bring it up once again. This is going to be a summary type of post, maybe with some analysis thrown in.
We first saw the superfluous man in The Captain's Daughter with Pyotr. He's a wealthy, ignorant (to begin with) officer in the military whose goal is simply to be with the girl he loves. He manages to avoid properly fighting for his own army while maintaining neutrality with the enemy. He doesn't produce anything for the greater good of society, except maybe his memoirs. Pyotr is superfluous, but he is in a position as an officer where he could be of distinct use to his country if he was so inclined.
Next we meet Pechorin, the anti-hero superfluous man. He is a military officer as well, but he doesn't seem to really have any true responsibilities. Unlike Pyotr, most of his time is spent not being in love with people and telling the reader just how much he doesn't love people. He contributes absolutely nothing to the greater good, except maybe his journals.
In Fathers and Children we have more than one superfluous man. The prime example is Pavel. The majority of his life was spent in pursuit of a woman who didn't even love him back. The men in Fathers and Children illustrate the path the Russian novel has taken from the adventure of military life to a focus on domesticity.
At this point, it seems that all of the authors are writing for the nobility of Russia (the only people who were truly literate) about topics that they could relate to. This trend doesn't disappear after this, but we see a change with Dostoevsky' Crime and Punishment. Despite the shift away from adventure and the military, the Russian novel still refuses to break from the theme of the superfluous man.
Raskolnikov is different from the previously observed types of superfluous men. He isn't part of the nobility, he hasn't ever had any real job, and he lives in poverty. He is interesting because he doesn't think that he is superfluous (hence his theory of exceptional men), but he doesn't do anything for society except think about it. At leas Pechorin seems to understand that he is superfluous, but Raskolnikov is blind to it.
Lastly we see Vronsky, who starts off as a very classical military officer superfluous man to a artistic/romantic superfluous man. As a military officer his duties seem to be keeping everyone entertained. As a romantic, his time is spent avoiding getting bored. Vronsky's character seems to be the best amalgamation (I'm pretty sure that's the right word) of all the different superfluous men we have seen. He has the military bearing and wealth of Pyotr, the boredom of Pechorin, the throwing-it-all-away-for-love of Pavel, and he has the total uselessness of Raskolnikov. It seems that Russian novels are written by taking the idea of the superfluous man and putting him in different situations to see what happens.
Both the readers and the authors of these books (for the most part) could relate to superfluous men, so it makes sense that it is an important theme. Also, stories about people who have to work all day everyday are boring, so it is simply more interesting to read about than other types of characters.
Now I hope you guys are as tired of reading the word 'superfluous' as I am of writing it...