Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

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...

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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.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

In “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” Leskov eschews his much-used skaz narrator—the chatty, distracted, half-educated storyteller who reveals more about himself than about his tale—in favor of a more detached voice. Although the narrator here is an insider, referring to the Mtsensk District as “our part of the country,” he no longer seems a part of the life there. Far from making the story of Katerina Izmaylova a dry, judicial account of crime and punishment, this detachment gives it a straightforward, inexorable movement. Like any good storyteller, the narrator wants his listeners to pay attention, to wait for what happens next; in his very first paragraph, he promises a story and a character that none can remember “without an inward shudder.” Thereafter, he ends each short chapter—there are fourteen—with either an obviously temporary resolution or a tantalizing hint at events to come: “This was what the old man decided to do; but he was not given the chance to carry out his decision”; “But time was passing not only for them: after his long absence, Zinovy, the wronged husband, was hurrying home.”

The narrator’s deliberate hints are not the only device that lends this tale its concentrated forward motion. Although Leskov’s narrator avoids dialect and folksy locution, he still creates an air of folklore and myth. The young, beautiful wife kept under lock and key by an old, miserly husband and his tyrannical father, the saucy suitor with his swagger and his black curls—these are the stuff of folktale and magic. Magical, too, is Leskov’s description of the lovers’ night in the moonlit apple orchard, but the magic becomes more ominous in Katerina’s vision of the snub-nosed cat in her bed—once there to wake her in place of her lover, once there to remind her of her sins.

The dreamlike, trancelike quality of Katerina’s obsession leads her onward, hypnotizing both her and the reader. The dream turns into a nightmare on the march to Siberia, when Sergey’s betrayals and mockeries come as fast as his flattery and blandishments came before. Animal imagery and prophetic vision come together at the end of the tale when Katerina, staring fixedly at the waves, sees the heads of her victims rising from the water, and when she herself rises up one last time to throw herself on her rival “like a strong pike on a soft little perch.”

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