“Heroes” for their time

Classical literature is not very popular these days, probably because it is based on an “old fashion” life style.   New generations are always hunting for new ideas and revolutionary ways of thinking. Inventing these new ideas, however, requires a lot of intellectual effort.  Making that effort is a hard thing to do.  Consequently, the newest members of the society are trying to ‘oppose’, ‘negate’ and ‘re-build’ everything around them without analyzing the possible consequences. They feel a great urge to modify or even to destroy ‘the old ways’, but they have no idea what the ‘new ways’ will look like.

What are these ‘heroes’ supposed to do if:

1)      There is too much information floating around, but very small percentage of it is useful

2)      Practically everything is allowed already. There is nothing much to fight for (or against)

3)      ‘Standing out’ has become a new ‘norm’ in the North America.   There are not too many serious political issues that teens and young adults can get involved in, and the life is generally comfortable for most of us

Hopefully no one is thinking that I am conveying a new and original thought here. Back in the in 19th century, Mikhail Lermontov in his novel A Hero of Our Time http://www.eldritchpress.org/myl/hero.htm painted a portrait of a grown man who is unable to assess his actions adequately. This character was constantly unhappy with his social and political surroundings, however, lacked intellectual skills and bravery to improve at least something that he was unhappy about.  Nevertheless, I have spoken to some teens who thought that this character was intelligent and ‘not afraid to fight against the others’.  The main message of the book (in my humble opinion, of course) is precisely the fact that he really had nothing and no one to fight against, but he really wanted to. Even if he possessed intellect or courage in the past, he has wasted all of his potential to deal with minor problems that were not even note-worthy.

I have been working with students of all age groups. Every class has a ‘popular’ person who thinks that he or she is ‘popular’.  They might be able to amuse their friends for brief periods of time, they might be able to cause a fight between other classmates, or to talk back to the teacher, but NOTHING they do can produce anything larger than a LOCAL effect, visible within their small circle of friends ONLY :(:(:(.  This could be amusing to watch when the students are in grade 6. What is scary is that some of them do not grow out of this ‘phase’ till grade 12. And some of them, as the main character of A Hero of Our Time, stay in this stage forever.

4 thoughts on ““Heroes” for their time

  1. It’s interesting that you understood the book in terms of relationship between the individual and the external environment: whether “there exists” something against which the character can fight.

    I interpreted the book as an internal, psychological study: which type of personality, or character, might lead to which kind of life our outcome? Pechorin’s character is of a particular kind — and it leads to a particularly interesting life. It’s up to the reader to decide whether this life is a valuable one.


    1. it is a very interesting way to interpret this book!
      For some reason I was under impression that Lermontov largely depicts himself in disguise of Pechorin. If you read other poems and novels by Lermontov, you could have noticed that he always emphasizes the conflict of an individual with his surroundings (social, political, etc). Lermontov was quite young when he wrote most of his famous texts. I have a feeling that he never had a chance to grow out of the teenage nihilism phase.
      I recently found out that many grade 9 students in Russia think that Pechorin is a super cool guy… that really disturbs me and I really hope that it is not quite true. :):)


      1. I agree with all of this.

        But because characters LIKE Pechorin (the “popular” kids in class, for example) existed then, and exist now, and exist in all sorts of circumstances — mustn’t we conclude that the “Pechorin phenomenon” depends NOT on some particular set of circumstances, but on a special, particular type of internal character?

        I think the social/political conflicts aren’t themselves the problem. They are the RESULTS of a deeper problem. The deeper problem, I think, lies inside.


      2. Then again — in defense of the 9th graders, Pechorin is kinda cool! I hope that’s not a sign of my OWN problems. If anything, we can all admit that the book is exciting.

        We have a post about Heroes over on Brothers Dreyzen. I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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