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Freedom in Alexander Pushkin’s literary works occupies one of the central positions; however, Pushkin treats freedom from various sides and perspectives. Living in the period of social and political changes, in the era of the Great Patriotic War of 1812 and the revolt of Decembrist of 1825, Pushkin belonged to the generation which was in search of ideal freedom. However, being unable to attain this kind of freedom, Russian poets of the nineteenth century made constant attempts to replace one idea of freedom with another, finally realising that freedom in real life was constantly restricted. Alexander Pushkin went further than other poets of his times in his treatment of freedom, inspiring the formation of new Russian civic poetry and influencing such poets as Nekrasov and Lermontov. As Janko Lavrin points out, “what the world now understands and admires under the name of Russian literature came with and after Pushkin” (p.65).
At the beginning of Pushkin’s literary career, the issue of freedom in his literary works acquires a strong political tendency. In his early poem Volnost (1817) Pushkin reveals his vision of ideal freedom, opposing the existing absolute power of kings and expressing the idea that true freedom can be achieved only under the constitutional monarchy.
In Pushkin’s poem K Chaadaevy (1818) the political idea of freedom acquires a slightly different direction; in this poetic work Pushkin points at the necessity of defending his native land. For Pushkin, love for homeland is inseparably connected with the struggle for freedom. However, as Pushkin becomes mature, he rejects a pure political treatment of freedom, demonstrating his interest in inner freedom of a person. In this regard, Pushkin implicitly draws a parallel between inner freedom and poetic perception of freedom in his poetic work Derevnja (1819). Such a combination uncovers many possibilities for achieving freedom, but, on the other hand, it evokes inner doubts, which the poet does not dissipate by the end of the poem. The first part of Derevnja reveals the poet’s ecstatic delight of his achieved freedom:
In the second part of the poem Pushkin ponders over the destiny of Russian people, feeling that his poems are unable to provide them with long-waited freedom, that they are unable to completely eliminate serfdom which destroys people’s lives and their inner selves. Contrasting beauty of nature with lack of freedom in the village, Pushkin shows that people can acquire happiness only in free society. As Alexander Pushkin claims,
Thus, the poet appeals to the king and asks him to annihilate serfdom, providing people with freedom and knowledge. As the poet, Pushkin has the only tool – his poetry – to strive for universal freedom. But in such poems as K Moryu (1824) and IzPindemonti (1836) Alexander Pushkin continues his discussion of inner freedom, presenting a romantic embodiment of freedom. As the poet realises that he is not able to achieve freedom in real life, he turns to freedom in his dreams, identifying himself with nature. In the poetic work K Moryu Pushkin applies to the image of sea, which symbolises both inner freedom of a person and poetic freedom. For Pushkin, sea is the embodiment of free and rebellious nature, but at the same time through the image of sea Pushkin reveals the poet’s loneliness in his struggle for freedom. However, it is nature that gives necessary power and freedom to Pushkin, saving him from any dependence:
These words from Pushkin’s poem IzPindemonti reveal that the poet is in search of new verges of freedom, the verges that overcome the existing reality. This search is especially obvious in his famous poem Uznik (1822), where the appeal for inner freedom is expressed through eagle’s cry. Both the eagle and the prisoner are captives who are deprived of their freedom. Alexander Pushkin creates this poem in exile, where he is deprived of freedom, of close relatives and friends. However, the eagle is a freedom-loving bird, and its greatest wish is to attain freedom. Alexander Pushkin identifies himself with the eagle, maintaining the idea that a person is also free by nature, thus freedom is crucial for any human being:
In this regard, Pushkin implicitly shows that political, outer and poetic freedom stand behind inner freedom. On the other hand, Pushkin realises that it is impossible for the poet to completely reject one aspect of freedom for the sake of another; As Angus Calder points out, “a man who respects himself as ‘autonomous’ will of course tend to chafe against political tyranny and may well seek a place where he may have ‘independent’ control of his own life” (p.35).
Uznik was written when Pushkin was only twenty-three years old, but even at this age the poet realised that society, in which he lived, specifically created invisible barriers and restrictions, wrong ideals and illusions, and Pushkin expressed his longing for real freedom. Deviating from the political treatment of freedom, Pushkin realises that a poet should be free both from people and from authorities; only in this case it is possible to create freedom-loving poetry. In Pesni o veshem Olege Pushkin points out that any literary work should be free and truthful. After the Decembrists’ defeat, Pushkin continues to dream of freedom, hoping to realise this dream. As Pushkin claims in his poem Vo glubine sibirskich rud dedicated to his friends-Decembrists,
In the series of Southern Poems Alexander Pushkin introduces the idea that outer freedom can not be attained. In such poems as Zygane (1930) and Fontany Bahchizaraiskogo dvorza (1824) Pushkin portrays certain spheres where freedom of people is strongly confined, but nevertheless, a person is able to develop and preserve inner freedom. Such treatment of freedom coincides with the ideals of Renaissance; Pushkin’s obsession with inner freedom reflects the revival of national consciousness under complex social changes. Thus, Pushkin’s ideas of freedom possess cultural roots rather than political, despite the fact that some of his poetic works, such as Arion, Anchar and Skaski, demonstrate an open protest against the existing political system. But Pushkin’s rebel is of spiritual nature; it is the rebel of a person who is overwhelmed with humanism and who rejects any personal violence. Instead of the existing ideology of the nineteenth century, Alexander Pushkin creates his own ideology of inner freedom in the context of universal freedom (Edmunds, pp.29-32). In his poem Ya pamyatnik sebe vozdvig nerykotvorniy Alexander Pushkin points out that his major life achievement is his freedom-loving poetry:
But Pushkin does not restrict himself only to poetry; he freely experiments with different literary genres, making an attempt to “explore the possibilities of prose in the same way as he had explored the possibilities of verse” (Lavrin, p.183). However, his ideal of inner freedom remains central to all his literary works. This is especially true in regard to Pushkin’s short stories, novels and tales. In his famous verse novel Evgeniy Onegin Pushkin points at the characters’ inability to achieve inner freedom. Pushkin portrays aristocratic society, which is unable to overcome the existing restrictions (Falen, pp.7-10). Perhaps, the only character who is able to attain inner freedom is Tatiana, a young girl with intelligence and longing for love. Tatiana falls in love with Onegin, the principal character of the play, and she is the first who makes a declaration of love. However, Onegin rejects her in a most inappropriate way, and Tatiana suffers much, loosing her inner freedom. As Tatiana claims:
She marries an old gentleman and remains devoted to him, despite the fact that she still loves Onegin. Thus, in Evgeniy Onegin Pushkin uncovers the reality of his life, embodying his own thoughts of inner freedom in the character of Tatiana. In Pushkin’s tale Pikovaya Dama the writer discusses inner freedom in a different context. Introducing the character of Germann, Pushkin reveals the negative consequences of Germann’s wish to achieve freedom. Germann considers that true freedom can be attained only with the help of money, but as he gets more and more entangled in deceits, he destroys himself and other characters. In fact, Germann looses his self and his freedom, as he becomes obsessed with playing cards; in this context, abstract things take full control over Germann’s life, driving him mad by the end of the narration. Comparing his character with Napoleon and Mephistopheles, Pushkin uncovers the essence of Germann who does not acknowledge any moral principles or laws. As Pushkin claims in regard to his character,
The similar portrayal Pushkin utilises towards an old countess, ‘Pikovaya Dama’. The old woman in Pushkin’s tale is identified with an Egyptian mummy; she is a lifeless creature who lacks any freedom and who leads meaningless life within aristocratic society. Alexander Pushkin does not treat old woman’s death as tragedy, because, for Pushkin, life without freedom is empty existence. In this regard, inner freedom in Pikovaya Dama is discussed through freedom of moral choice. Germann and the old woman make a wrong choice, thus loosing the possibility to attain inner freedom. However, in contrast to these characters, Pushkin introduces the character of Lisaveta Ivanovna who greatly values her moral principles that finally save her.
In his story Egypetskiye Nochi Pushkin returns to the issue of freedom in the context of poetry. On the example of Charskii, a poet and aristocrat, Pushkin reveals his own suffering, as he makes an attempt to become a freedom-loving poet (Debreczeny, pp.11-13). Similar to Pushkin’s poetry, Egypetskiye Nochi discusses the relations between the poet and society, and these relations reflect the essence of his views on the idea of inner freedom. Although Pushkin demonstrates a close connection between the poet and people, he nevertheless points at the necessity of freedom for the poet. At the beginning of the story Pushkin shows Charskii’s dependence on society:
However, further Pushkin demonstrates Charskii’s dissatisfaction with such position and his attempts to preserve his inner freedom. In his conversation with a stranger, Charskii exclaims:
Charskii, similar to Pushkin himself, feels loneliness within society in which he lives. In his poem Svobody seyatel pustynniy (1823) Pushkin reveals a notion that a poet lives among people who are not able to perceive his ideas of freedom. On the other hand, in the poem Prorok (1826) Pushkin states that any poet that wants to appeal for freedom should endure many difficulties and pain. Alexander Pushkin suffered throughout his life, and these sufferings were reflected in all his freedom-loving poetry and prose.
Analysing the ideas of freedom in Alexander Pushkin’s poetry and prose, the essay suggests that Pushkin’s treatment of freedom changes throughout his literary career. Starting with an idea of political freedom, Pushkin gradually realises the vainness of his attempts to attain outer freedom. In his further works the poet pays more attention to inner freedom of an individual, applying to symbolical understanding of freedom through understanding of nature. It is this inner freedom that Pushkin values above all other kinds of freedom, implicitly or explicitly referring to inner freedom in almost all his poetic and prose works. This inner freedom in Pushkin’s poetry concerns various issues, such as freedom of choice, freedom from any biases, freedom of religious beliefs and, above all, freedom of creative work. In Pushkin’s prose works inner freedom is inseparable from moral values of people. Overall, freedom-loving poetry and prose of Alexander Pushkin contribute to the formation of a characteristic writing style, which is adopted by further generations of Russian poets.
Calder, Angus. Russia Discovered: Nineteenth-Century Fiction from Pushkin to Chekhov. London: Heinemann, 1976.
Debreczeny, Paul. “Introduction”, in Alexander Pushkin:Complete Prose Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1983, pp.5-11.
Edmunds, Robin. Pushkin: The Man and His Age. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
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Lavrin, Janko. Pushkin and Russian Literature. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1948.
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Пушкин, Александр Сергеевич. Египетские Ночи. Россия: Издательство Росмэн-Пресс, 2002.
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