Literary Realism in Dostoevsky's "The Meek One" Analytical Essay

Literary Realism in Dostoevsky's "The Meek One"
An analysis of the realistic and unrealistic elements in Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story "The Meek One: A Fantastic Story" within the framework of nineteenth-century Russian realism.
# 154011 | 2,984 words | 5 sources | 2014 | CA
Published by on Sep 11, 2014 in Literature (Russian)

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From the Paper:

"Written as an "interior discourse monologue" (Danowski 3), a tidier version of what was later to develop in Great Britain into "stream of consciousness," Dostoevsky's long short story "The Meek One: A Fantastic Story" (also translated as "A Gentle Spirit" by Constance Garnett)was originally published in the November 1876 issue of Dostoevsky's periodical,Diary of a Writer (Hough 73) (also referred to as A Writer's Diary). Itfits broadly within the framework of nineteenth-century Russian realism, as even a cursory reading will show. Dostoevsky himself writes, in the preface to the story: "I have termed it 'fantastic,' though I myself consider it realistic in the highest degree" (Dostoevsky 251).Like other contemporary works of realism, it emphasizes character and mood rather than plot and action, it attempts to get inside the mind of the protagonist and write from that point of view, and, above all, it embraces the dark side of human nature. However, there are also several unrealistic features in the story that are worth examining. This essay will examine both the realistic and unrealistic elements in this remarkable and unusual piece of literature, which has been described as "the most intimate of Dostoevsky's stories" (Pevear xxiv).
"Although the title of the short story is "The Meek One," the woman referred to in the title is not the protagonist. Rather, it is the man who marries her that is--a pawnbroker, "an introvert" (Danowski 11), "a disenchanted dreamer" who "has the psychology of a 'harassed mouse,' and ... is poisoned by spite accumulated over years," a man whose "love is perverted into tyranny and cruelty" (Mochulsky 551). Still, these two characters become so enmeshed that one cannot consider the one apart from the other. It is difficult the judge the plausibility of these two characters from the perspective ofthe twenty-first century Western mind. While they may have been plausible and realistic in the Russia of Dostoevsky's day, they stretch the limits of credibility for most contemporary readers. Note that Dostoevsky is at pains to justify his peculiar portrayal of the pawnbroker, calling him "an inveterate hypochondriac" in his preface to the story(251). Oddly enough, there is no evidence whatsoever of hypochondria anywhere in the story, though there is plenty of evidence of neurosis. The contemporary reader recognizesin this unusual piece a mix of conflicting human emotions: love, hate, guilt, self-justification, despair, denial, bitterness, one-upmanship. Certainly, these emotions are all portrayed quite credibly through Dostoevsky's masterful prose."

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