Russian Literature: is it only sorrow and hopelessness?

Russian Literature: only sorrow and hopelessness?

Russian Literature is known for the afflicting themes it deals with: sorrow, poverty and sickness. Is it possible for the afflicted characters to find the light at the end of the tunnel in a universe full of hopelessness? What can we learn from the stories of Alexei Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Eugene Onegin and the other protagonists of the Russian masterpieces? Can the psychological torments which haunted these characters from the 19th and 20th Century be applied to our society? 

”Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”

This idea has its roots in the world-known ”Social Contract” of Jean Jacques-Rousseau and it comes as no surprise that such great thinkers as the Russian novelists have chosen to apply this philosophical concept to their works. The idea that man can never find freedom became a recurring motif in Russian Literature.

The obsession for liberation from civilization dominated the reasoning of Russian writers and it actually remains a relevant theme for our society. We cannot go back to our primordial state of freedom, we long for civilization and cannot live without it. But what is there to be done when we cannot adapt to modern society, how can we find a place in this scary and cold world?

Inner Conflict 

Now that we have talked about Jean Jacques-Rousseau´s point of view in what concerns the freedom of human beings, we cannot overlook the fact that the Russian heroes are always in conflict with the outside world. Could these conflicts have internal causes? The characters from the Russian novels are always suffering from heartbreak, a fact which leads to dissatisfaction towards society: lovers are trying to run away together and leave their modern way of life. But they later come to the conclusion that whether they find themselves in nature or in society, obstacles cannot be avoided. But why must the lovers never find a happy ending? This question leads us to the third constant theme in Russian Literature: love.

What really is love?

The eternal question, which is not only a theme for Russian Literature but also a reality of our own real world: What is love? Is love the virus which causes the sorrow of the Russian characters? After having read works such as “Eugene Onegin” by Pushkin or  “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoi we can draw a common conclusion in what concerns the two main heroes of these novels: they always choose the worst alternative, which is sorrow. Although they have many chances to make things right, they always choose to continue their suffering.

It seems that they are addicted to encountering obstacles and when all seems too easy, they come up with imaginary obstacles on their own. Therefore these characters choose the harder path as if they were addicted to suffering.

What can we learn after experiencing these unsettling stories? Is life only suffering and hopelessness? What wanted the great Russian authors to teach us? I think that each one of us can draw our own conclusion from these stories, but what I have learned from them is that we shall never have great expectations from the people around us.

Moreover, I have also learned that we cannot run away from the responsibility that comes with our actions. We cannot escape from our daily duties and we must also be realistic when it comes to our abilities.

What do you think? What are your experiences with Russian Literature? Let us know in the comments below!

– Ilinca Matei


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