Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss Pushkin's double role as both narrator and character.

    The close correspondence between Pushkin's life and the novel's events and characters makes it natural, but very original, for Pushkin to involve himself directly in his story. The first appearance of Pushkin as character is when he befriends Onegin in St. Petersburg; once Onegin leaves for the countryside, this Pushkin disappears for a while until he reappears at the ball, again in Petersburg, in the final chapter. However, throughout the entire novel Pushkin speaks as a very involved narrator, alternating between telling the story and telling his own clearly autobiographical story.

  2. 2

    What is the role of fate in the novel?

    Fate precipitates much of the novel's action: Onegin leaves for the countryside due to his uncle's death; he and Tatyana meet because Lensky wanted to show off Olga; Zaretsky happens to be by to drive the duel to its deadly conclusion; Tatyana is married off; and countless more examples. Tatyana is clearly aware of and obedient to fate, and as she matures she gains a sense of confidence in this attitude, such that, though she cries, she can repudiate Onegin's advances without hesitation at the end of the novel. Lensky too goes to the duel with clear consciousness of the possibility that he may not return, but neither during his anguished night before nor at the dueling ground itself does he show any inclinations to stop the duel, even despite Onegin's flagrant disrespect for the rules of dueling in arriving late. Unlike the other two, Onegin resists fate in order to maintain his freedom, which leads to his misfortune.

  3. 3

    Is Pushkin a precursor to the realism later found in the legendary Russian prose novels? Why or why not?

    By paying close attention to the lives of all social classes within his time, Pushkin displays a proto-realist attitude which later authors would take up. We may find examples of this attention to quotidian detail in his tour through Petersburg high society life with Onegin in the first chapter and the bucolic descriptions of the provincial nobility and peasants in the chapters of the book situation in the countryside.

  4. 4

    What is the significance of Pushkin's descriptions of traditional Russian life in the countryside?

    In one respect, Pushkin's attention to life in the Russian countryside reflects his own life: he interacted with peasants such as his nurse during his childhood and had a great deal of firsthand experience of the provinces during his exiles. As much as Pushkin was at home amidst sparkling balls and ballets, he also enjoyed nature and the simple life of tradition, one feature which he sees as distinguishing Onegin and himself. Similarly, Pushkin enjoyed Gallicisms and European culture but also ascribed great value to the usually disregarded Russian folk culture.

  5. 5

    To what end does Pushkin use so many allusions, pastiches, epigraphs, etc.?

    Pushkin himself was very well-read, and his novel-in-verse was not only a story but a deliberate turning point in his own work and an innovation in literary genre. With such a specifically meta-literary aim, it is no surprise that Pushkin wraps his story with the awareness of so many other real stories, to the point that he uses actual writers as characters at times. Pushkin makes clear the tenuousness of the line between literature and life, playing with his characters and his readers to push past a storytelling that pretends as though it were real life and not fiction.

  6. 6

    How does Pushkin deal with the relationship between poetry and prose?

    The transition from poetry to prose was an actual issue which Pushkin himself faced and then articulated through the combination of the two into a 'novel-in-verse' and the representation of the conflict using the poet Lensky and the anti-poet Onegin who kills him. Even though he expresses his desire to change from poetry to prose in several authorial asides, Pushkin nevertheless yearns for the emotional power and youthfulness of his poetry days. The transition is not a rejection of poetry but a kind of amalgamation of the two genres.

  7. 7

    What is Pushkin's relationship with his characters?

    Throughout the novel Pushkin is continually involved in the lives of his characters whether interacting directly as a character himself, narrating from above, or taking a position between the two, such as when he bewails Tatyana's situation as a friend removed from the situation or reads her letter. At the end of the novel when Pushkin discusses how he thought up the characters in his mind, he identifies himself as an objective third-person narrator, but from all the events in the novel we know that his position is far more complex.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of Pushkin's mini-biographies of secondary characters such as Zaretsky?

    As Tolstoy will do to a much greater degree in such monumental novels as War and Peace, Pushkin paints an entire world around his characters by giving detailed descriptions of secondary characters. His history of Zaretsky establishes the man's intense interest in dueling, a trait which will prove very important to the plot, and curiously fits him into the theme of men changing dramatically once they leave their youth. Likewise, Tatyana's mother relates to her daughter in her interest in the characters of romantic novels (in fact one which Tatyana had read) and her reluctant marriage. However, Tatyana actually reads the books instead of hearing secondhand about so-and-so attractive characters, and her core personality is not subsumed by her marriage unlike her mother who becomes a complete housewife. Thus, these secondary characters act as foils to more clearly show the personalities of the main characters.

  9. 9

    What is the role of dream and dreaminess in the novel?

    In nearly every chapter of the novel, the feeling of dreaminess, confusion, or opaqueness figures importantly. The novel itself opens with Onegin speeding through St. Petersburg drunken on wine and speed. However, the greatest dreamer is clearly Tatyana, who, associated with the moon, spends her time engrossed in novels, looking contemplatively out the window, or wandering outside at night. When she falls in love with Onegin, her dreaminess intensifies to the point of unhealthiness, and she has a vivid nightmare. Lensky too is generally intoxicated in love for Olga, and the night before his duel he is frequently described as having a clouded mind. Finally, Onegin succumbs to emotional confusion at the end of the novel when, ignored by Tatyana, he retreats into his den.

  10. 10

    Discuss poetic inspiration as depicted in the novel.

    The clearest instance of a poet is Lensky, whose poetic ardor was kindled in his childhood by his love for Olga and presumably developed during his time in Germany reading the Romantic poets. Though he does write passionately for Olga such as in her album while in the countryside, Lensky also reacts to the passing of father Larin by composing verses, an event which foreshadows Lensky's later writing of poetry the night before the duel. At the time, Lensky puts away his volume of Schiller in favor of the image of Olga which shines in his mind, which may comment on Pushkin's part that poetry ought to be based on true feeling and not an abstracted literary interest, which is Onegin's characteristic. Though the rake is almost moved to writing poetry while in his depression, Onegin misses the opportunity and instead, in contrast to Lensky, spends his winter reading books.