Fate and Free Will

Important to remember is the significance of Pechorin's struggle not only with social conventions, but also with the concepts of "fate" and "will". These are abstracts most commonly encountered directly in statements attributed to Pechorin or in his own diary. It is in the context of the confrontation between the opposing philosophies surrounding "fate" and "will" that the final section of the book, "The Fatalist", gains its greatest significance. Pechorin throughout is bucking against his own existence, testing to see whether he can find any justification for his actions in the context of predestination, and he concludes in the final episode of the book that human existence is indeed determined by fate. This goes against one of the most basic precepts of the ideal "romantic" hero, which is that reason should be subjugated to emotion as a demonstration of the exercise of free will and individuality. Viewed thus, one can clearly see that Pechorin falls far short. He needs other people, is ruled by fate, and follows not his emotions but his own skewed reasoning, which drives him out of society while at the same time requiring its presence.

Lermontov, through the character of Pechorin, shows a sharp understanding of the Byronic type and in showing Pechorin's failures to fit that mould points out the problem that he believed to be facing Russian society at the time. Pechorin is master of his own free will when it suits his purpose, but when circumstances become more difficult he is more than happy to shirk moral responsibility and ascribe his actions to destiny. As a man who lives in the shadow of the Decembrist uprising he stands for a generation of young intelligent men oppressed by the subsequent tightening of the police regime and its clamping down on expressions of individuality in all fields. He is a "superfluous" man whose strengths, deprived of any positive outlet, have been turned against himself and can only serve to speed on his eventual unhappy demise.

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