"Identity crisis" is an important theme in Russian, then Soviet, now again Russian literature in relation to the "quest for the Russian soul" prompted to a significant degree by Peter the Great's declaration that Russians would become Europeans. The theme of identity in crisis has been prevalent from Pushkin to Simionov to Zamyatin to Buglakov and more as they explored the idea of what it meant to be Russian (then Soviet, now Russian).
Chekhov's Uncle Vanya presents the quest for identity through the disruption to his settled life that Vanya Voitski experiences when he finds himself overwhelmingly attracted to Yelena and driven to attempt an unthinkable act. It is further represented in Vanya's dislocation from his home because of Serebryakov's decision to sell his country estate where Vanya has been estate steward.
VOITSKI. [Shrugging his shoulders] Strange! I attempted murder, and am not going to be arrested or brought to trial. That means they think me mad. [With a bitter laugh] Me! I am mad, and those who hide their worthlessness, ... their crying heartlessness ... are sane!
As Chekhov represents the personal identity crisis that Vanya undergoes, he is simultaneously representing the general Russian identity crisis as Russians find themselves being shifted (upper classes and serfs alike) from lives centered around the country estate to lives centered around urbanizing industrialization.
Contemporary Russian literature represents a new identity crisis of post-Soviet society as being one of geographical positioning (Clowes, Russia on the Edge). The Soviet identity shifted from monarchical class division and geographical distinctiveness, in which Russia's geographical and cultural and social boundaries were distinctly marked, to Soviet expansiveness and geographical extension. In post-Soviet Russia, that expansiveness has been reduced once again to geographical distinctiveness, but a distinctiveness that is yet in flux. This corresponds with the quest for identity of the new Russian in a State that traded the ideal of progress for the reality of regress to economic, political, and social instability. This instability is reflected in the personal identity crises of individual people in parallel with the crisis of instability and dislocation Vanya experiences in Chekhov's play.
There are a goodly number of contemporary Russian playwrights who are perhaps best represented by Maria Arbatova and her thematically notable play, On the Road to Ourselves. Having been academically trained in a wide range of disciplines, including psychoanalysis, she addresses the Russian identity crisis on a world scope while introducing terms like "feminism" into legitimate Russian acceptance.
- RUSSIAN PLAYWRIGHTS