Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The best interpretation of “The Peasant Marey” is given by Joseph Frank in Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 (1983). The account given here follows Frank.

In January, 1876, Dostoevski had published the first installment of Dnevnik pisatelya (1873-1874, 1876, 1877-1881; Pages from the Journal of an Author, 1916), a corrosive critique of the decay he saw in Russian family life, noted for its endemic drunkenness and wife-beating. In this mood, he reverts to the bitterness of his early prison camp days, and “The Peasant Marey” is meant to mitigate the harshness of the first piece. The story is probably intended to sway his readers to sympathy with his own deep-rooted faith in the peasantry as the soul of Russia. Whatever his motive, the incident with the peasant Marey was enormously fructifying for Dostoevski’s spiritual life and may be read as an important conversion experience.

Frank argues that “The Peasant Marey” does not recount a religious experience in the usual sense, however, because Dostoevski had never completely abandoned his Christian faith. Frank maintains that he never, as far as is known, subscribed fully to the atheism of the radical groups with which he associated. According to Frank, “He always remained much closer to the French Utopian Socialists, who, while rejecting official religion as embodied in their own Roman Catholic tradition, regarded their radical social ideals as the...

(The entire section is 601 words.)