Yermolai and the Miller's Wife

by Ivan Turgenev

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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

Inequalities Inherent to Patriarchy and Serfdom

It is evident that the narrator feels empathy for the women in the text, Arina and Yermolai’s wife, which is intended to transmit to the reader through the narrator’s description of these characters. The consequences of those inequalities that stem from a patriarchal system are shown in the condition of these two women, the one neglected, the other abused by her husband. Moreover, the inequalities inherent to serfdom are reflected in the poverty of Yermolai’s wife and the exploitation of Arina by her aristocratic masters.

Romance and Lack Thereof

The theme of romantic attraction is established early in the text when the narrator comments on the fact that he is hunting in mating season, the best time for hunting those birds he is most interested in catching. This is a quiet and innocent sort of romance, as embodied in the peaceful yet enchanting way in which Turgenev describes the forest in which the story takes place, where the birds sing quietly and the trees appear as vague outlines in the evening light. Romance is developed further in the contact between Yermolai and Arina, who are both portrayed as solitary figures, neither of whom feel any love for their current spouses and who are in deep emotional need for more fulfilling interpersonal relationships.

Human Immorality

Immorality is very pervasive in this work. It can be observed in Yermolai’s neglecting of his wife as well as in the actions of lesser characters, for example in the servant excepting a bribe to allow the two huntsmen to stay at the mill despite his master’s orders. This work might be read on one level as a satire of Russian society, particularly of the institutions of serfdom and religion as well as how such institutions drive individuals to make selfish or falsely principled decisions. The way in which the bonds between Arina and the footman, and later between Arina and Yermolai, are rendered impossible by social convention lends weight to such an interpretation. A second possible approach might be to view this text as a pessimistic reflection on human nature in general, but the more common interpretation, given the political flavor of the other short stories in The Sportsmen’s Sketches is to assert that Turgenev’s purpose was to show the Russian social and political system as enabling the worst in human nature to manifest itself the most easily.

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