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Materialism In Russian Literature Essay

1561 words - 6 pages

In the mid-nineteenth century Western Europe had a firm grasp on Russian society and culture. At that time, Western Europe called for Modernization, which places a heavy emphasis on wealth and social maneuverability often leading to increased Economic Materialism and Egoism. Both Leo Tolstoy, in his work, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his work, Notes from Underground criticize Modernization and its effects as a danger to society. At the same time, both seem to advocate for moral and intellectual altruism often portrayed through the peasant class and as a byproduct of physical and emotional suffering. The two novels differ in their protagonists. Tolstoy’s protagonist, Ivan Ilyich, learns from his experience and is redeemed whereas Dostoyevsky’s protagonist, the Underground Man, is not. In the end, it is up to the reader to decide which author is more effective in presenting an altruistic hero and conveying the message at hand.
Dostoyevsky criticizes Russian Modernization in his representation of Zverkov. Zverkov is a Russian aristocrat, a representation of the artificiality of Russian society, and a “man of action” that the Underground Man vehemently despises (Dostoyevsky 639). He exists only to increase his own welfare, rushing “toward his goal like an enraged bull with horns lowered” (639). Given the standards set up by the Underground Man in Part I, a “man of action” is fundamentally “stupid,” the direct opposite of the “man of acute consciousness” to whom the Underground Man belongs (639). He can perform any action without being hindered by introspection, but has little to no understanding of the actions he commits. Zverkov displays this trait when boasts about “some magnificent lady whom he’d finally driven to make a declaration of love. (Of course, he was lying like a trooper)” (677). Zverkov was only interested in worldly pleasures; he has no regard for the welfare of others. In fact, his numerous sexual exploits and willingness to continually “seduce Circassian maidens” suggest that he lacks moral decency (678). Interestingly enough, his coterie of acquaintances, “approved with laughter,” all of his misdeeds (676). They, too, are “men of action,” fundamentally “stupid,” utterly void of understanding (639). In presenting Zverkov and his acquaintances in a fundamentally materialistic manner, Dostoyevsky points out the error of society: that socio-economic success is more important that moral and intellectual modes of thought. He goes further to conclude that affects of Modernization, such as Economic Materialism and Egoism, are threats to society. Economic Materialism disregards all noble values and Egoism places value only in self-importance. In that sense, change will never be propagated. If everyone focuses on themselves, how are they able to focus on the bigger picture? How are they able to overcome the “stone wall” that hinders their progression into enlightenment (639)?
Dostoyevsky’s representation of Liza...

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