Death and the insignificant man: Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by Hunter Prichard

Ivan Turgenev, in the tradition of the idolized Russian literary minds (Tolstoy, Gorky, Dostoevsky), wrote stories dealing with the soul.

His stories are often personal, attempting to connect his characters with feelings of love and happiness. Often his characters are unable to reach the great goal of happiness.

They are miserable beings directed through life by a clear mission in front of them: the love of a woman, a dedication to politics, etc

But even as the story concludes they are unable to realize their true goals.

Turgenev's novella "The Diary of the Superfluous Man" tells the story of a poor and meek clerk living in Russia. In the very first pages he informs readers that he is to die shortly.

The following story is his determination to make an impact on earth. He falls in love with a beautiful woman, embarrasses himself by ruining her and her fiancé and then dies alone as she dances away with another man.

The narrator is named Chulkaturin. He is given approximately a month to live.

As I have never been in a position where a doctor has given me a limited sentence on my life, I, at first, did not know how to approach the work. It seems to me that a two-week deadline would, ultimately, be liberating, as there would be little repercussions for any actions that you would take.

Chulkaturin does not seem to be afraid of death. He has already declared himself the "superfluous man," a title that provokes the image of a man who walks, lives and acts without anybody to notice him. He is not evil nor kind, not brilliant nor dull, not insistent nor weak – he is useless, a nothing, a leaf floating in the wind.

As the story unfolds, we meet Chulkaturin's love interest: a young girl named Liza.

Liza — as any girl would act toward a superfluous man — likes him enough to allow him to talk to her but has no real opinion on the matter. She is already in love with a dashing prince who has come to win her over.

Like a man who has been terrorized by a demented spirit, Chulkaturin overanalyzes every single movement and conversation detail he has with the lovely Liza until he is driven crazy. He knows in his heart she has no affection toward him but he is unable to accept this fact.

Is it true love he feels for the girl? Or is he simply a man driven crazy by a beautiful girl willing to talk to him? "Whenever I happened to be alone with her, my tongue would suddenly quit working, as if it were frozen stiff and both of us would sit there in silence waiting for a third party to come along," Chulkaturin states.

The reader is able to see that Turgenev's mission in plotting the romantic nature of Chulkaturin toward Liza is intended to show his lust toward the female rather than his love.

He is a man driven to his final legs with no place to turn. He is desperate for any affection thrown his way.

In a fit of undashing stupidity he challenges the prince to a duel. The prince accepts. Nobody dies; the prince is only slightly injured and chooses not to fire at Chulkaturin.

The disrespect of not firing shows the indifference people have toward his character – he is worth so little that it is more honorable not to slay him. With the duel he has succeeded in destroying the relationship between Liza and himself.

"Oh, if you only knew how repulsive that Chulkaturin is to me," Liza proclaims.

He dies soon after.

The novella is expertly written and is one of the saddest pieces I have encountered.

Chulkaturin does not lead a happy life – the only happiness he acquires is the false happiness of lust over a girl whose only redeeming quality is her outward beauty.

Ultimately, his character teaches the reader the important lessons of insignificance, unimportance and the process of being superfluous.

It teaches us that a person who is insignificant is worse than one who is evil.

Hunter Prichard is a controversial columnist who speaks his mind.

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