(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A Hero of Our Time is one of Russia’s greatest novels. All the characters, with the possible exception of Vera, are drawn with consummate art. In Pechorin, the novel’s hero, Lermontov gave the first psychological portrait of the literary archetype, the superfluous man. Lermontov analyzes Pechorin as a victim of the conditions he was doomed to live in, hence the ironic label, “hero of our time.” As a representative of the lost generation of the 1830’s, Pechorin’s creative genius finds no legitimate channel of expression and thus turns in on itself and grows destructive. In analyzing Pechorin, Lermontov analyzed the sickness of the age.

The first two of the five narratives, “Bela” and “Maxim Maximych,” show Pechorin through the eyes of others. “Princess Mary” is in the form of Pechorin’s diary, and “Taman” and “The Fatalist” record some of his adventures in the Crimea and the Caucasus.

In “Bela,” the bored Pechorin, stationed at a fort, becomes infatuated with the Tartar girl Bela, daughter of a local chieftain. He kidnaps her with the help of her own brother, whom Pechorin rewards with a horse stolen from the girl’s Tartar suitor Kazbich. Bela, frightened at first, falls in love with Pechorin, whereupon he loses interest in her. One day, she goes for a walk outside the walls of the fort and is mortally wounded by Kazbich. The story is told by Captain Maxim Maximych, who has befriended Pechorin....

(The entire section is 524 words.)

A Hero of Our Time Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Narrator meets Maksim Maksimich while on a return trip from Tiflis, the capital of Georgia, to Russia. The season is autumn, and in that mountainous region snow is already falling. The two men continue their acquaintance at the inn where they are forced to take refuge for the night. When the Narrator asks Maksim Maksimich about his experiences, the old man tells of his friendship with Grigoriy Pechorin, a Serbian who came from Russia about five years before to join a company of cavalry in the Caucasus.

To relieve their boredom on that frontier post, the soldiers played with Azamat, the young son of a neighboring prince. As a result of this friendship, the prince invited Maksimich and Pechorin to a family wedding. At that celebration, Pechorin and Kazbich, a bandit, met and were equally attracted to Bela, the beautiful young daughter of the prince. Azamat, observing this development, later offered to give Bela to Kazbich in exchange for the bandit’s horse. Kazbich laughed at the boy and rode away.

Four days later, Azamat was back at the camp and visiting with Pechorin, who promised to get Kazbich’s horse for the boy in exchange for Bela. The promise was fulfilled. Insane with rage at his loss, Kazbich tried to kill Azamat but failed. Suspecting that Azamat’s father had been responsible for the theft, Kazbich killed the prince and stole his horse in revenge for the loss of his own animal.

Weeks passed, and Pechorin became less attentive to Bela. One day she and Maksimich were walking on the ramparts when Bela recognized Kazbich on her father’s horse some distance away. An orderly’s attempt to shoot Kazbich failed, and he escaped. Kazbich, however, had recognized Bela, too, and a few days later, when the men were away from camp, he kidnapped her. As Pechorin and Maksimich were returning to camp, they saw Kazbich riding away with Bela. They pursued the bandit, but as they were about to overtake him, he thrust his knife into Bela and escaped. Although Pechorin seemed to be deeply grieved by Bela’s death, he laughed when Maksimich tried to comfort him.

The Narrator, having parted from Maksim Maksimich, stops at an inn in Vladikavkaz, where he finds life very dull until, on the second day, Maksimich arrives unexpectedly. Before long, there is a great stir and bustle in preparation for the arrival of an important guest. The travelers learned that Pechorin is the expected guest. Happy in the thought of seeing Pechorin again, Maksimich instructs a servant to carry his regards to his former friend, who has stopped off to visit a Colonel N——. Day turns to night, but still Pechorin does not come to return the greeting. Dawn finds Maksimich waiting at the gate again. When Pechorin finally arrives, he prevents Maksimich’s intended embrace by coolly offering his hand.

Maksimich anticipates warmth and a long visit, but Pechorin leaves immediately. Neither Maksimich’s plea of friendship nor his mention of Bela serves to detain Pechorin. Thus Maksimich bids his friend good-bye. The Narrator attempts to cheer him, but the old man remarks only that Pechorin has become too rich and spoiled to bother about old friendships. In fact, he will throw away Pechorin’s journal that he has been saving. The Narrator is so pleased to be the recipient of the papers that he grabs them from the old man and rushes to his room. The Narrator leaves the next day, saddened by the reflection that when one has reached Maksim Maksimich’s age, scorn from a friend causes the heart to harden and the soul to fold up. Later, having learned that Pechorin is dead, the Narrator publishes three tales from the dead man’s journal, as Pechorin himself had written them.

First, Pechorin wrote that Taman, a...

(The entire section is 1532 words.)