Understanding Pechorin as a Byronic Hero: The Contributions of Each Narrative Voice on Storytelling
In literature, the opinion of a character seems to not solely derive from the perspective of one narrator. A holistic characterization of an individual requires a multitude of viewpoints, as each person notices distinct nuances of a persona that others narrators might not recognize. Within the novel A Hero of Our Time, Lermontov’s inclusion of distinctive narrative voices enhances the quality of story telling by offering multiple perspectives in order to characterize the protagonist Pechorin as a Byronic hero. The viewpoints of characters such as the unnamed narrator, Maxim Maximich, and Pechorin himself highlight features of a Byronic hero through descriptions of the physical appearance and personality of the protagonist throughout the story.
Initially, through the perspective of the unnamed narrator, readers can examine Pechorin’s aristocratic demeanor. In accordance with the description given within the introduction of A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin appears to accurately resemble the proud, aristocratic appearance of a Byronic hero (qtd. in Lermontov xiii).The apparel that the unnamed narrator first discovers Pechorin wearing insinuates his upper-class status, “… his dusty velvet jacket, fastened only by the two bottom buttons, allowed one to view his blindingly white linen, which bespoke of the habits of a proper gentleman; his soiled gloves seemed sewn expressly for his small, aristocratic hands…” (48). The white linen, velvet jacket, and tailored gloves all indicate Pechorin’s aristocratic standing as he appears able to afford luxurious clothing that the lower classes might not possess. Additionally, the perspective of the unnamed narrator demonstrates the patrician tendencies of Pechorin’s behavior. His privileged lifestyle reveals itself to readers through the explanation the unnamed narrator adds on the protagonist’s travel style. When the narrator first locates Pechorin, they notice that immediately, “Pechorin’s valet comes out to meet him and report that they were about to begin harnessing; he handed [Pechorin] his cigar case, and after receiving several instructions, bustled off” (48). In comparison to the way Maxim Maximich and the unnamed narrator travel, Pechorin appears to prefer, as well as afford, a more luxurious and comfortable experience. As the unnamed narrator continues to observe Pechorin does not appear concerned with the process of preparing for travel. He instead relies on his lower-class servants to handle the difficult work while he relaxes and smokes a cigar. In the end, the unnamed narrator illustrates the aristocratic portion of Pechorin’s character, which aligns in accordance with the introduction’s definition of a Byronic hero.
Furthermore, Pechorin’s Byronic characteristics of an antisocial, individualistic personality present themselves through Lermontov’s incorporation of Maxim Maximich’s perspective. Pechorin first exhibits his unsocial disposition when he reunites with Maxim Maximich after many years of separation. Upon leaving the house of Colonel N, “Pechorin was absorbed in thought, gazing at the blue jags of the Caucasus, and seemed in no hurry whatsoever to get going” (50). Despite not appearing rushed, once Maximich appears and invites him to dinner, Pechorin rudely responds, “Truly, I don’t have anything to tell you, dear Maxim Maximich. But farewell, it’s time for me to go … I’m in a hurry” (51). Pechorin’s antisocial tendencies appear conspicuous in this example. The moment that Maximich arrives and attempts to converse with Pechorin, he suddenly remembers that he must leave immediately. Even worse, he fails to provide his old friend with an explanation for his abrupt departure. Moreover, the perspective of Maxim Maximich also demonstrates Pechorin’s individualistic nature, a prominent feature of a Byronic hero. According to Maximich’s experience with the protagonist, “whatever [Pechorin] wants, give it over; you could see he’d been spoiled by his mama as a child” (37). In the story Bela, Maximich illustrates Pechorin’s individualistic qualities when recounting to the unnamed narrator his time with Pechorin at the army fort. One day, Maximich visits Bela only to realize that Pechorin seems missing, not leaving any sort of explanation,
“‘But where’s Pechorin?’ [Maximich] asked.‘Hunting’‘He left today?’ [Bela] said nothing, as if she were having trouble getting the words out.‘No yesterday,’ she said, finally, sighing deeply” (33).
When Pechorin ventures on his hunting trip, he neglects to tell anyone his whereabouts or when he might return. This, therefore, indicates that Pechorin has little concern for the feelings of others around him. Upon returning from his hunting trip, Maxmich recounts that the protagonist does not attempt to apologize for his negligence and acts as if all seems normal, “Bela threw her arms around his neck, and not a single complaint, not a single reproach, for his long absence. Even I became angry with him” (33). Ultimately, from the viewpoint of Maxim Maximich, readers can understand the antisocial, self-centered personality of the protagonist of A Hero of Our Time, Pechorin.
Additionally, Lermontov includes Pechorin’s own perspective since it discloses the Byronic hero qualities of appearing marked by fate and suffering from irreparable misfortune. In the personal diary he keeps, Pechorin reveals to the readers a crucial detail from his past, “When I was still a child, an old woman told my mother my future; she predicted for me death at the hands of an evil wife…” (127). This disclosure serves as an explanation for Pechorin’s behavior around women. Throughout A Hero of Our Time, readers observe his peculiar conduct regarding women. He appears to possess boundaries that prevent him from getting emotionally close to any female he may fancy, “But the word “marry” has a magical power over me; no matter how passionately I love a woman, if she lets me only feel that I should marry her – farewell love! – my heart turns to stone, and nothing can warm it again” (126-127). An application of this statement appears in the protagonist’s reaction to Bela tragic death. Pechorin does not mourn too long for her loss; he instead moves on with his everyday life a short while later. A similar response occurs when Pechorin realizes he might possess feelings for Princess Mary. When she finally admits her own feelings for him, Pechorin denies his feelings and leaves her heartbroken. In addition to appearing marked by fate, Pechorin seems to possess the Byronic feature of experiencing misfortune. In his recount of a conversation with Princess Mary, Pechorin divulges that he suffers from a dark past that significantly influences his character,
Everyone has read the marks of bad traits on my face, traits that were not there, but they were assumed- and so they were born. I was modest, and they accused me of being cunning; so I became secretive. I deeply felt good and evil; no one cherished me, everyone insulted me; and so I became vindictive. I was gloomy while other children were cheerful and talkative; I felt superior to them, and they placed me lower; I became envious. I was prepared to love the whole world, but no one understood me; so I learned to hate… I spoke the truth and people did not believe me; so I began to deceive…. I became a moral cripple (110).
In addition to the bullying, Pechorin also suffers the loss of his mother and a parting from his father. All of these irrevocable tragedies appear to account for his treatment towards women as well as other individuals around him. Pechorin builds firm, emotional barriers so that he never experiences that type of pain again. In the end, Lermontov’s inclusion of Pechorin’s own narrative voice exposes that he possesses the Byronic qualities of appearing marked by fate and irreparable misfortune.
Lermontov incorporates a variety of perspectives in his novel A Hero of Our Time in order to provide multiple viewpoints to characterize his protagonist Pechorin. The unnamed narrator, Maxim Maximich, and Pechorin himself all present different qualities in order to provide a complete depiction of Pechorin’s character. By presenting features of his personality, behavior, and appearance, readers can deduce a holistic characterization of Pechorin. Despite depicting dissimilar aspects, each narrative voice utilizes descriptors of a Byronic hero in order to typify Pechorin.
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