Themes and Meanings

Hamletism, both in the Russian people and in an individual’s personality, was an issue that Ivan Turgenev explored, initially in his early sketches and later in his novels. In 1860, Turgenev actually gave a lecture entitled “Hamlet and Don Quixote,” in which he delineated two basic personality types. In “Hamlet of the Shchigrovsky District,” Vasily Vasilych utters what became the subtext for some of the author’s later characters: those highly sensitive, cultured intellectuals who cry out against the petty conventions of their fathers yet ultimately succumb to these very same conventions because of a kind of spinelessness—a lack of will. Turgenev’s Hamlets, feeling themselves alone in a hostile, corrupt world, rail not only against society but also against themselves. They berate themselves for doing nothing, and they persist in doing nothing. They wear themselves out with philosophical talk, yet they are afraid to act on their words.

Perhaps the people despair that action will ever do any good, or perhaps they lack a kind of faith in human nature. They are cynical, self-deprecating men who thrive on self-pity and who, like Vasily Vasilych, “become reconciled” to their meaninglessness. They will make no mark on their world; they will change nothing; they will blame fate for their failure. They are, according to Turgenev, “superfluous” men.

Turgenev first introduced this type of character into his works because he...

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