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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 646

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Ivan Andreitch (Vanya) Laevsky

Ivan Andreitch (Vanya) Laevsky (ahn-DREH-ihch LAH-ehv-skee), a minor official of the czarist government. This slender, neurotic, twenty-eight-year-old intellectual already considers himself a failure. He is living in the Caucasus with another man’s wife and, after two years of this scandalous conduct, finds that he has grown tired of her and is going mad in this backwater community. He desperately wishes to abandon his mistress and flee to St. Petersburg, where the social and intellectual life is more compatible with his temperament. He realizes, however, that he is always thinking that a new love affair or change of surroundings will inspire him to do great things. He drinks too much, neglects his work, spends his time playing cards, and generally displays himself as a weakling, a wastrel, and a cad. His behavior eventually involves him in a pistol duel that marks a turning point in his life. Afterward, he becomes temperate, industrious, and mature; he marries his mistress (whose husband has recently died), and they settle down to a humble provincial life.

“Kolya” Von Koren

“Kolya” Von Koren, a zoologist. This broad-shouldered, swarthy, vigorous young man stands in striking contrast to Laevsky. Whereas the latter is a dreamer and romantic, the scientist is a hardheaded realist strongly affected by the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Darwin. He hates Laevsky and believes that individuals like Laevsky should be executed or sent to labor camps to prevent them from infecting society. The real reason for their mutual antagonism, however, is the instinctive biological reaction of two fundamentally different natures. Von Koren lives by his reason, Laevsky by his feelings. Oddly enough, after the sobering experience of their duel, each acquires character traits of the other. Laevsky becomes industrious and responsible; Von Koren becomes more sympathetic and tolerant. When Von Koren’s summer field trip ends, the two men part on friendly terms, illustrating the author’s thesis that, life being such a mysterious and precarious affair, human beings ought to try to tolerate one another with Christian humility.

Alexandr Daviditch Samoylenko

Alexandr Daviditch Samoylenko (dah-VIH-dihch sah-moy-LEHN -koh), an army doctor and friend of both Laevsky and Von Koren. This fat, flabby, homely, man affects the brusque manner of a martinet and bully to cover up his tenderhearted, generous nature. Laevsky and Von Koren frequently encounter each other at Samoylenko’s home. The army officer likes them both and tries to get them to tolerate each other. In this...

(The entire section contains 646 words.)

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