Though some are quick to call Russians a patient, long-suffering folk, the idea of accepting the yoke of life's misfortunes and trudging onward is not characteristic of all Russian literature and history. Characters in Alexander Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter and those in the "Life of Archpriest Avvakum by Himself" relate to suffering in contrasting ways. Though instances of mortal peril and emotional distress are scattered throughout both works, their social consequences differ within the thematic frameworks. Analysis of the reasons why characters suffer, the ways in which they suffer, and their behavior when not suffering reveals that Avvakum's accounts of trials and tribulations serve to construct and solidify social boundaries, while Pushkin's accounts serve the contrary function of blurring social distinctions.
[...] “Though he had the greatest respect for his wife, he would not for the world have disclosed to her a military secret,” but the dangerously growing Cossack threat later had “increased the captain's nervousness,” which makes him desire to prevent the possible suffering of his troops and family. He holds a military meeting and says to his wife, “we'll talk about it even with you here” (144-5). Thus, with the possibility of suffering great, Kuzmich follows Pushkin's general paradigm and blurs social boundaries and roles by including his wife in military operations. If Avvakum's work correlates suffering with the sharpening of social distinctions, then we must ask whether the converse is true. [...]
[...] In one of the few instances when Avvakum describes truly fortunate circumstances, he also claims to have lost some of his social distinction: all this [bounty] has been fashioned by our sweet Christ for man, so that, with a mind at last at rest he might give praise to God. But such is man that he is given to vanity, and his days go by like a shadow when he has eaten his fill then, like a heathen, he falls asleep, without saying his prayers; he puts off repenting till his old age and then he vanishes” (429). [...]
[...] By using her personal pain to pull at the heartstrings of a nobleman, Maria exemplifies the effect of blurring social boundaries that suffering has in Pushkin's text. Beyond the meanings and reasons behind their suffering (why they suffer), the ways in which characters lament (how they suffer) strengthen social boundaries in Avvakum's work and weaken them in Pushkin's. When writing about his last encounter with Pashkin, Avvakum offers a revelatory meditation. He admits, ten years he had tormented me, or I him—I know not which. [...]
[...] In the absence of moral certainty, Avvakum offers suffering as a definition of social boundaries. A similar lack of moral certainty exists over the question of Pugachev's character, a traitor who wreaks war and suffering, but who also helps realize Pyotr's ‘fairy- tale' desires. The Cossack rebel is unlike Avvakum's subjects in his ability to negate social boundaries; he morphs from being a drunkard in the snow (Pushkin 117) to the self-proclaimed sovereign of the Yaik territory and also proves instrumental in helping Pyotr and Maria break the social restrictions that would keep the two apart. [...]
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