Order and Honor: Weaponry and Treachery in Pushkin's Prose

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Abstract

As Pushkin developed as a historian and social thinker, he concocted scenarios and characters to test concretely the problems facing ancient noble families. While military officers from the nobility had staunchly defended the state in the Pugachev Rebellion, by the nineteenth century, European models of nobility had led nobles to imagine themselves as independent, honor-bound councilors of state. Disgruntled by the empire’s rejection of this role, the nobility had become the group most likely to use their service weapons in future revolts. This article focuses on the symbolism of weapons used by the officers Petr Grinev and Vladimir Dubrovskii, two characters via which Pushkin interrogated the shifting categories of nobility, honor, and service. Each finds himself doubly-bound by personal and official loyalties, expressed in terms of weapons, which are surrounded by a complex and multivalent semiotic field. In Pushkin’s economical prose, the repeated appearance of various personal, corporate, noble, and crude weapons present meaningful patterns, which are related to the constraints of both service and honor. Depending on the conditions under which it is used and its type, a weapon can equalize, degrade, dishonor, defend, punish, establish hierarchies, or restore honor. While in the military, weapons must be wielded according to the orders of superiors, in the personal realm rules for their honorable use can be difficult to define, which may be why the significance of weapons in Russian literature has been most thoroughly studied within the closed context of the dueling ritual by Iurii Lotman and Irina Reyfman. Outside of the duel, the risks of dishonoring oneself with a weapon become even greater. The concept of personal honor is dangerous because, without appropriate life circumstances, grounded in education and upbringing, the choice of a worthy cause risks becoming an arbitrary one.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSlavic and East European Journal
Publication statusSubmitted - Jul 14 2020

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