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Mikhail Lermontov s protagonist, Grigory Pechorin, belongs to that group of literary characters known individually as the superfluous man. Generally an intelligent, educated individual, the superfluous man would appear to be one who has been either unjustly treated or outcast by society in general. The superfluous man attempts to find a place for himself in the world, but perhaps due to the combination of his talents, upbringing, personality and intelligence, continually finds himself on the outs with his peers.
If the above definition is accepted as valid, then Pechorin might appear to be the consummate superfluous man. From the outpouring of his tale of woe to Princess Mary, we may come to the conclusion that Pechorin has no concept of cause and effect, at least not as it applies to himself as the cause. Moreover, it becomes fairly apparent that he is of the belief that he is a victim of the world, which is more interesting, as one considers the culture of victimization that has become popular in recent years. Who has not heard the excuse, I did it because my (parents/state representative/dog) (harassed/bit/abused) me when I was a child. In my opinion, the growing interest in pop psychology and the related fields of social psychology and child psychology have greatly contributed to the decay of moral rectitude and the concept of taking responsibility for one s own actions.
The translator attributes Pechorin s capriciousness to the lack of employment for his gifts. I do not agree with that assessment, as it has been my experience that only those who have made up their minds to lack direction will be unable to find an activity that occupies their mind and appeals to them. One possible pursuit would be some form of art. Skill matters little, if the activity is pleasing. Cultural appreciation, gastronomical excess, or sexual exercise would all be suitable endeavors. We see that Pechorin certainly takes pleasure in the company of women, though in his own words, I must confess I don t really like strong-willed women, (111), the female sex does not hold an unbounded appeal for him. But his relationship with Vera, and his reaction to Maxim Maximych s inquiry about Bela clearly show that he is capable of feeling some emotion for others, although he refuses to expressing it. This is entirely Pechorin s own shortcoming, for if he were willing to conduct a fairly rigorous self-analysis, balancing himself against general social behaviors and mores, he could work to make those changes within his character that would allow him to relate with others. It would not even require major personality shifts, but rather a loosing of certain inhibitions, along with a different application of self-monitoring.
Pechorin claims that he does not enjoy bringing misery to others, and that when he does, he feels just as miserable. I do not hold the belief that a person is incapable of changing with the exception of a certain type of person and those who refuse to make the necessary changes are little better then a coward who runs from an engagement with the enemy. It is not logical behavior to inflict misery upon oneself, without that misery being in the service of a higher ideal, and even then, it still runs contrary to the natural instinct for survival. The fact that a very substantial portion of the populace engages in this very sort of illogical behavior does not constitute a defense for Pechorin, nor does it make the behavior reasoned and logical.
The other sort of person, the sort that is incapable of changing, are the insane. Generally, they are not a concern, as once they are identified as such, they are usually dealt with, these days by either medication or institutionalization. In general, most are incapable of fitting into society at large. One subgroup that is capable of existing in society are the sociopaths. Those without a social conscience, who should preferably be shot upon discovery. Pechorin does not precisely fit into this group, although he certainly shares some of the same antisocial and destructive qualities. Again, going back to his tale of his childhood, he claims that society created him as the man he is, which is a denial of responsibility similar to that of a sociopath. Certainly, on an amoral, destructive level, Pechorin matches well. As a direct result of his own actions, he is responsible for the deaths of Bela, her father, and Grushnitsky. He brought great shame to both Vera and Mary, not to mention the great upheavals in the lives of Bela s brother Azamat and the bandit Kazbich. While he displays sorrow for Bela s death, it is entirely insufficient to account for the indifference with which he alters other people s existences.
Certainly, upbringing does have a great deal to do with what sort of person we become, and I have come to the belief reinforced by reading about these superfluous men that a child, given all it needs to survive and learn intellectually, but no moral boundaries, will come to be greatly like a sociopathic personality. They will most likely be incapable of relating to others, save as far as they are themselves effected. They will not display anything near the level of enlightened self-interest that enables society. For all intents and purposes, they will be a sociopath, and due to the initial lack of guidance, they will be at best highly resistant to change, and at worst, totally irredeemable.
Pechorin is either a coward, in which case he should be pitied, if not despised for his unwillingness to change, or he is a sociopath, in which case he should be exterminated, without a spark of guilt or pity, for the benefit of society. He clearly does not fall into the sociopathic category, as his displays of emotion faint though they are prove. So he is a coward, unwilling to come to terms with himself.
Pechorin is not merely the superfluous man of the 19th century, but rather a mirror held up for all of humanity. His insensitivity, fear, and self-loathing reflect us still to this day.
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