It is the aim of this paper to bring forth an interpretation of the “poor people” as portrayed by three different examples of Russian literature. The Diary of a Madman, The Overcoat, and Taman serve as the sources for any assumptions and conclusions drawn out in this paper. All three of these works lead the reader to draw assumptions about the “poor person’s” social status, desires, and weaknesses. In Gogol’s short story, The Diary of a Madman we are entranced by the diary entries of one man. This man is a civil service clerk who is held in little regard in society. He mentions several times how even people of lower positions then himself show him no respect. “They’re always sprawled out in the entrance hall, not even bothering to acknowledge my existence with a little nod (Gogol, p.11).” His superiors look down on him while no one is looking up at him.
One thing that is interesting is how this man copes with this fact. Although we hear him many times acknowledge the fact that he is of low social standing and of his low funds he never fully accepts that this is his life. For example, when he is speaking to the Divisional Chief he says that this man must be jealous of him. He states, ” Wait my friend I’ll go higher then you yet, and God willing, much, much higher. Then I’ll be of good social position beyond your dreams (p.13).” As his diary entries continue, his rational thought begins to deteriorate. He eventually believes that he is the new King of Spain as he finally confirms in his own mind the fact that his life was not supposed to be as low class as it was.
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“It’s incredible to me that I could have imagined that I was a civil servant clerk (p.22).” In another one of Gogol’s short stories The Overcoat, we meet a new character by the name of Akaky Akakievich. Just like the man in The Diary of a Madman, Akaky is a ninth class clerk. He is fated to a life without much money and low social standing as predicted at his christening as he “cried and twisted his features into a sour expression.” (p. 69).
His position in the workplace reflected how people treated him. “In the office not the slightest respect was shown him.
The porters didn’t even raise their eyes, as if nothing but an ordinary fly had passed through the reception room. (p. 70).
Unlike the madman, Akaky was very accepting of his life. In fact he loved his job and when given a promotion because of his dedication to it, he turned it down. Even though he had to struggle with money, having barely enough for candles and an overcoat, and he had to deal with the disrespect of society, Akaky was happy and accepting of his life.
The third story that we will look at is Lermontov’s story A Hero of Our Time. This story is different from the others because the main character is one of high stature working as an itinerant officer having an assistant and much respect from other members of society. However, in this story the characters that Pechorin meets in Taman are of much lower status then him. For example, the housing accommodations that he stays in are a far cry form what he is used to. Three of the characters that he meets in Taman, the blind boy, the singing girl, and Yanko, are working as “honest smugglers” as Pechorin calls them. They are living happy lives until Pechorin investigates their strange doings.
Yanko and the singing girl are forced to leave Taman and the blind boy will live alone as an orphan. Besides the characters in these three stories being similar in their social status, there is also the thread of the love triangle. In each story the love that the characters have for the things that they desire are not clear-cut. There are obstacles of objects and other people that they can not seem to get through. In The Diary of a Madman, the main character is in love with the Director’s daughter Sophie. At the start of his delusions he believes that he hears Sophie’s dog talking to another dog about letters they have written to each other. In the letters, the dog mentions that Sophie has a suitor whom she is very happy with and the mad man is heartbroken and outraged.
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This has stuck him as a tragedy of his life and only aids the progression of his delusions as King of Spain because he feels that if he were of a higher status he would have had a chance with Sophie. “Hell!I can’t go on High Officials, senior officers, they get all the best things in the world. You discover a crumb of happiness, you reach out for it and then along comes a high officer and snatches it away.” (p.18) Akaky, from The Overcoat, is also involved in a love triangle. However, his story is quite different from the madman’s. Unlike his story, Akaky story of love is one for his job. “It would be hard to find a man who so lived for his job.
It would not be enough to say that he worked conscientiously – he worked with love.” (P71).
The only thing that stood in the way of his one love was his new overcoat. Having reluctantly gone to a party that was thrown partly in honor of his new overcoat he left early after a jovial time by himself. On his way back home Akaky was mugged and his new coat stolen the day that he received it. After some advice he went to report the jacket missing to the borough Commissioner. “That day he did not go to the office for the first time in his life”(p.88) Eventually the coat even played a part in Akaky’s death. In Taman, Pechorin has a love affair that does involve people.
Pechorin felt passion for his singing girl. If this had not been true he would not have gotten into the boat with her. Also, she had to have picked up on his feelings for her or else her plan to get him out of the house would not have worked. The problem with this love story is that the singing girl only told Pechorin that she loved him so she would have a chance to get him alone to kill him. Her real love was for Yanko and after this incident they sailed away together. What is very interesting about these stories is how different each story’s plot is yet the similarities between their main themes are astounding.
In every fairy tale story there is always the Mr. Prince Charming and the Princess that were made for each other, they never really had struggles and they were the ones who were always happy, they had that “happily ever after” that everyone wishes for, But in this story its just a little different. There is no Mr. Prince Charming, everything is not perfect, struggles do arise, and we don’t even ...
The relationships that these characters seem to enter closely resemble each other and ultimately cause an undignified end befitting persons of lower standing. The poor people are a representation of these lower class citizens that, no matter what they attempt, they cannot avoid the inevitable.