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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 326

Two closely interrelated primary themes of Alexander Pushkin’s story are heroism and honor. The behavior of the officer, who at first seems to epitomize the valiant warrior, later forces the reader to question whether he upholds those values. The affronts to honor, initially addressed in a card game, expand into a larger consideration of the role of honor within daily life as well as on the dueling ground or battlefield. Underlying these particular themes is the larger issue of masculinity, as the author suggests without explicitly stating that honor is specifically connected to specific gendered manifestations. Women do not play any roles in the story. Further related to manhood is the contrast between immaturity and true adulthood, which requires men to weigh consequences of their “honorable” actions.

Under the code of manly conduct that governed the society about which Pushkin wrote, men felt compelled to defend their honor. The character of Silvio, who has engaged in numerous duels, understands this code in ways that set him apart from other men. Expertise in marksmanship and commitment to engaging in the duel are two essential elements. However, for Silvio, there are other equally important components of correct personal behavior, which reflects not only the individual’s status but also social values.

The reader learns that the specific duel considered in this story was intended as a rematch that would resolve the dilemma that had resulted years earlier when neither participant was killed. Honor, for Silvio, is an even greater issue in the new encounter, as facing up to the challenge will be a further indicator of courage. A contrasting perspective, however, paints this second meet-up as foolhardy bravado, in that the original cause of the challenge no longer matters. The question of whether either participant can refuse a challenge without losing honor now assumes a larger role. These deliberations over how to characterize courage and honor suggest that, for Pushkin, the underlying social values have become outmoded.

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