This short story is told through multiple diary entries. Pechorin is in Pyatigorsk, and he is enamored with the landscape. After praising the landscape, Pechorin ventures to the Elizabeth spring, where he meets Grushnitsky, a cadet he has fought alongside. Pechorin reveals that he and Grushnitsky are civil towards each other, but that they do not like each other. Pechorin finds Grushnitsky to be too pretentious and self-absorbed. Grushnitsky "flaunts [a] thick private's greatcoat," and he tells Pechorin "that his reason for joining the K-- regiment would forever remain a secret between himself and the Almighty" (73). Pechorin believes that Grushnitsky enlisted into the army to fulfill a penchant for romantic situations. At the Elizabeth spring, Grushnitsky sees Princess Mary, a young aristocrat visiting Pyatigorsk with her mother.
Pechorin observes that Grushnitsky knows a little too much about Princess Mary, and he deduces immediately that Grushnitsky has feelings for her. Pechorin later witnesses Princess Mary pick up a glass for Grushnitsky, who has a hard time picking it up due to his injured leg. Pechorin walks towards Grushnitsky after the scene takes place and pretends to have not seen anything. Grushnitsky, believing that Pechorin has seen nothing, talks to Pechorin about the incident and tells Pechorin that Princess Mary is an "absolute angel" for picking up the glass (76). When Grushnitsky and Pechorin depart the Elizabeth spring, they walk past Princess Mary's house. Seated at a window, she sees them and acknowledges only Grushnitsky. This act seals both her and Pechorin's downfalls.
In the next diary entry, Pechorin notes that he and Werner, a doctor in Pyatigorsk, have similar mindsets. Werner knows about Pechorin's schemes to seduce Princess Mary and crush Grushnitsky, and he helps Pechorin by not correcting Princess Mary when she falsely assumes that Grushnitsky's private greatcoat means that Grushnitsky was reduced in rank as a result of a duel. Werner knows that Princess Mary will be crushed later on when she finds out that Grushnitsky is just a simple cadet, and this disappointment will cement Grushnitsky's doom. Werner, unintentionally, does another deed for Pechorin. He describes to Pechorin a woman who is in the company of Princess Mary and Princess Ligovskoy. Pechorin believes the woman to be Vera, a woman he loved in his past.
In the next few diary entries, Pechorin plays games with Princess Mary. He refuses to introduce himself to Princess Mary and her mother, Princess Ligovskoy. When they are in the same space, he ignores them. He even purchases a rug that Princess Mary wants and puts it on his horse. Pechorin's actions begin to make sense when Pechorin tells Grushnitsky that women like Princess Mary grow bored with men who they find too easily attainable. Pechorin focuses most of his schemes on Princess Mary. He feels that Grushnitsky is already walking straight into a trap. Grushnitsky shows too much affection towards Princess Mary, and Pechorin knows that she will grow bored of Grushnitsky quickly. Pechorin tries to contain a mocking smile when he sees a ring in Grushnitsky's possession. The ring is engraved with Princess Mary's name and the date she picked up the glass. While Pechorin plays his games, he encounters Vera in a grotto. She reveals to him that she is now on her second marriage and that she married again for her son's sake. Vera urges Pechorin to introduce himself to Princess Mary and Princess Ligovskoy so that he will be able to be in her company without arousing suspicion.
Pechorin decides that it is finally time to get into Princess Mary's good graces, not only for what Vera said, but also because he wants to continue his games with Princess Mary. An opportunity to get into Princess Mary's good graces comes at a subscription ball. At the ball, Pechorin bestows many compliments on Princess Mary, but what really changes her opinion of him involves the incident below. The dragoon captain's date, one of the ladies who are jealous of Princess Mary's attire, tells the dragoon captain that Princess Mary bumped into her earlier and never apologized. The dragoon captain takes matters into his hands. He enlists the help of a drunken man to embarrass Princess Mary. Pechorin earns himself the invitation to Princess Ligovskoy's drawing room by rescuing Princess Mary from the situation.
Princess Mary begins to fall for Pechorin and grows irritated and bored with Grushnitsky. Grushnitsky starts noticing Princess Mary's changed feelings towards him, but he does not yet suspect that Princess Mary has fallen for Pechorin until a second ball. At the ball, Grushnitsky shows Princess Mary the new line officer's uniform that he has purchased with his commission. She is unimpressed because the uniform cements that Grushnitsky is just a lowly cadet. The situation gets worse for Grushnitsky when he finds out that Princess Mary plans on dancing the mazurka with Pechorin. Grushnitsky stops the dance from happening, but he does not squelch Princess Mary's feelings for Pechorin.
Grushnitsky starts the rumor that Pechorin and Princess Mary plan on getting married in order to hurt them. Pechorin is irritated with the rumor, but he does nothing. He follows Vera to Kislovodsk instead. Princess Mary, Princess Ligovskoy, Grushnitsky, and the dragoon captain eventually come to Kislovodsk. Pechorin continues his games. He kisses Princess Mary on the cheek and finds out about Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain's plan against him. They plan on enticing him into a duel.
Despite knowing their plan, Pechorin agrees to a duel after overhearing Grushnitsky tell someone that Pechorin snuck into Princess Mary's residence to see her when she was at home alone. Pechorin had actually snuck into the residence to see Vera, but Grushnitsky never realizes this truth. Vera's husband overhears Grushnitsky's statements and Pechorin's agreement to the duel. He compliments Pechorin for defending Princess Mary's honor. Before the duel, a time lapse happens. Pechorin is at the fort, the setting of the novel's first short story, "Bela." He reminisces about how he felt before the duel.
Time quickly reverts back, and Pechorin eventually duels with Grushnitsky. He reveals last minute into the duel that he knows that the dragoon captain and Grushnitsky gave him an empty gun. Werner loads Pechorin's gun with bullets. Pechorin gives Grushnitsky a chance to recant his statement. Grushnitsky stands by what he has said and threatens to kill Pechorin if Pechorin lets him live. Pechorin shoots Grushnitsky off a cliff. They had decided to duel near a cliff so that they could hide the fact that they had dueled, and that the survivor would have no legal repercussions. Once the deceased hit the water, Werner would remove the bullet from the body. Pechorin shows no remorse for killing Grushnitsky. He says "Finita la commedia" immediately after Grushnitsky dies (141).
When Pechorin arrives home after the duel, His servant brings him two letters, one from Werner and the other from Vera. Vera's letter reveals that her husband has found out about her affair. Her face betrayed her when Pechorin's name was brought up in a conversation between her and her husband. The letter reveals that her husband is taking her far away. Vera tells Pechorin in her letter that she will never love anyone else again and begs him to not marry Princess Mary. Pechorin gets his horse and gallops as fast as he can, hoping to catch Vera at Pyatigorsk, but his horse dies. Pechorin cries like a child, then walks back to Kislovodsk, where he sleeps for many hours.
When he wakes up, Werner tells him that Princess Mary is not feeling well and that the authorities know about the duel, despite the letter he had given Pechorin earlier stating that Pechorin had gotten away with the crime. Werner wants to hug Pechorin since it is possibly the last time they will see each other again, but Pechorin's cold body language discourages him. The two men say goodbye without any signs of affection. Pechorin knows that he will be exiled somewhere as part of his punishment so he goes to Princess Mary's residence right after speaking with Werner. Pechorin has a private conversation with Princess Mary. He tells her that he was only playing games with her and states that he does not love her. This is the second time he has told her this truth. It cements everything between them. She tells him that she hates him, and they part.
Many parallels exist in this short story. Princess Mary has the same ailment as Pechorin. She grows bored very easily. She finds the men who admire her dull. Grushnitsky offers her some excitement in the beginning, but she soon grows weary of him. Princess Mary is also just as vain as Pechorin. She seeks to conquer Pechorin because he hurts her vanity. He ignores her instead of showering her with affections. Pechorin decides to manipulate Princess Mary not only because he likes games, but also because she snubbed him and showed preference for Grushnitsky when she sees them through the window.
Werner and Pechorin have similar mindsets. Werner enjoys Pechorin's games as much as Pechorin. Werner also shares similarities with Maxim Maximych. Both Werner and Maxim Maximych help Pechorin execute his schemes. Werner informs Pechorin of Princess Mary's false assumption, and he loads the gun that kills Grushnitsky. In the end, Pechorin discards both Werner and Maxim Maximych.
The chronological order of the novel's stories becomes clear through this short story. In this short story, a time lapse occurs before the duel. The story leaves the current time and travels to when Pechorin is stationed at the fort with Maxim Maximych. In this shift of time, Pechorin alludes to the fact that the duel and the events that lead up to it happen before his time at the fort. Essentially, Pechorin discards Werner before he discards Maxim Maximych.
Competition is an important theme in this short story. Pechorin encounters several adversaries. He and Princess Mary both want to conquer each other. Pechorin, however, is the victor. He employs a large arsenal of tricks. He talks to members of Princess Mary's entourage, but ignores her. He tells her about his childhood, an account which may or may not be true. He also kisses her. This kiss unravels Princess Mary.
Pechorin and Grushnitsky also compete. They compete for Princess Mary, and Grushnitsky loses. Grushnitsky loses several more times against Pechorin. Pechorin evades Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain as he sneaks out of Princess Mary's residence. He had spent the night with Vera. Pechorin discovers Grushnitsky and the dragoon captain's plan. Last, but not least, Pechorin kills Grushnitsky in a duel. Vera's husband is the only adversary that has some success against Pechorin. He takes Vera far away from Pechorin. This causes Pechorin to sob like a child.