Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ivan Turgenev’s story may be viewed as an allegory on the spiritual beauty of the Russian people symbolized by Lukerya, who personifies their longtime suffering and endurance. The story was written for a literary symposium that was published in 1874 to aid the victims of a famine. It was also included in the 1874 edition of Turgenev’s Zapiski okhotnika (A Sportsman’s Sketches, 1932), originally published by Turgenev in 1852 as an exposé on the evils of serfdom.

Thematically, “A Living Relic” stresses the dignity and moral worth of the peasantry and reflects Turgenev’s humanitarian concern and compassion for suffering. He calls the reader’s attention to the theme of suffering by introducing his story with a two-line epigraph from a poem by the Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-1873): “Native land of long endurance, Thou land of the Russian people!” Lukerya becomes the major symbol of that endurance in the story. She accepts her suffering with patience and dignity approaching sainthood; she does not complain, and she makes no demands on others. Her needs are modest. She eats nothing and subsists only on the water contained in a jug at her side, which she can still reach herself with her one unparalyzed arm. She accepts her affliction, pointing out that others are more unfortunate than she, for they have no shelter or are blind or deaf. Furthermore, she considers her physical affliction a spiritual advantage, because it relieves...

(The entire section is 511 words.)