Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District

by Nikolai Leskov

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In Lady MacBeth of the Mstensk District, author Nikolai Leskov describes the tortured life of a woman consumed by sexual passion—an obsession that leads her to kill her lover, his father, his mistress, and herself. In creating this heroine, Leskov appears to be criticizing Russian society today as well as the policies and practices of the former Soviet Union. In all her actions, the story’s heroine appears to represent the dissatisfaction of people with the corruption in society. She is the embodiment of loneliness, violence, and sexual passion, but on a larger scale she represents the impassioned resistance of the country’s people to a government that oppresses and stultifies its citizens and leaves them feeling frustrated, angry, and hopeless.

The setting of the story is stifling and provincial, as are the men that live there. The women are portrayed as victims of both physical and emotional abuse. Readers can sympathize with the heroine, despite her heinous crimes, as she appears to be a victim of her environment. Thus, Leskov appears to be commenting on the oppressive nature of the government toward the people, particularly the oppression of women and the suppression of their needs and desires.

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