Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355

While reading this story, pay attention to the descriptions of its central character’s personal values, revealed through his words and actions as described by others. Since we are never allowed inside his head, as it were, we must rely on the observations of the initial narrator and then another character...

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While reading this story, pay attention to the descriptions of its central character’s personal values, revealed through his words and actions as described by others. Since we are never allowed inside his head, as it were, we must rely on the observations of the initial narrator and then another character within the story who later relates a third-hand account of Sylvio.

Sylvio, a former army officer who now lives alone on a precarious income while being habitually generous and outgoing, is a famously good shot. He also apparently has a mysterious history involving confrontations. His younger companions—all military men—are a little perplexed by him. Why did he decline to settle what they considered a serious enough personal offence to justify a duel? One of their new comrades at the regiment, in fact, was considered as good as dead after angering their host one night at a card game. Yet Sylvio accepted a mild apology from the man.

Is Sylvio a coward? Or does he simply live on his own terms, obeying a sense of morality that he has developed? What is he looking for when he confronts someone who has offended him, and when does he consider a matter resolved? One thing to notice is that he seems to have a tendency to observe the other person’s reactions—with what attitude they are facing death and whether they are serious or flippant.

Again, it’s also important to keep in mind as you read that Sylvio’s story is told through a third party, one of the soldiers with whom Sylvio socializes when he lives in N——. This is a deliberate choice by the author—Pushkin could have given us a more up-close look at Sylvio to make things clearer. But he chooses to keep Sylvio’s character and desires more enigmatic.

Stylistically, the language is to the point and told in a plain and factual way; yet the thematic elements seem melodramatic and quite foreign to contemporary readers. This contradiction of style and story elements add a layer of mystery through which Sylvio’s motivations and character must be interpreted.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

This work derives much of its impact from the way in which it is told, and notably from the author’s ability to fuse several points of view and to join tales from periods years apart into a single narrative with its own internal logic. The style, while often richly descriptive and evocative, is terse, and the mannerisms of the two duelists who tell their own tales blend imperceptibly with the narrator’s anecdotal approach. Each episode arouses the narrator’s, and the reader’s, attention and points the way for the unfolding story of Silvio’s duel in two parts with the count. The incident of the duel that was never fought, with Lieutenant R——, prods Silvio into revealing details of the unsettled confrontation from his past. A chance conversation about marksmanship, commenced just as the narrator realizes Count B——’s identity, then leads to the story about the second half of Silvio’s duel.

Characterization heightens the reader’s interest, for the tale hangs above all on the qualities of reckless valor often displayed in dueling. Silvio is depicted as taciturn and moody; at one juncture the narrator describes him as conjuring up images of the diabolical. Similar imagery is used when the count discusses Silvio’ challenge to him; whether the satisfaction he has ultimately obtained has tempered Silvio is left unstated. His dark and brooding qualities are offset by the more outgoing traits of the narrator, and by the count’s balanced maturity, which during the years since his first duel has come as a result of ripening experience. Eventually for him dueling stories become merely examples of youthful ardor carried to extremes.

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Characters