Criminal as a Tragic Figure in Pushkin's Works

Felix Raskolnikov, Michigan State University

In my presentation I am going to discuss the theme of "crime and punishment" in Pushkin's works and demonstrate that many important elements of Romanticism were very prominent in his poetry, prose and drama not only in the early 1820s, but also much later, although from the mid-1820s on he renounced the Romantic style.

The theme of crime is usually associated with Dostoevskij, but in fact it was Pushkin who was the first who introduced it to Russian literature. Many scholars both in Russia and in the West believe that after Pushkin had denounced Romantic individualism in the character of Aleko (The Gypsies), he completely relinquished the idealization of a criminal type. I want to suggest that it was not so, for most criminals in Pushkin's works of the late 1820s and early 1830s are not villains. Pushkin distinguishes between crimes and criminals. They are portrayed as tragic figures arousing sympathy rather than disgust. This does not mean, of course, that Pushkin vindicates crimes and eulogizes criminals, but that they are presented as Romantic rebels whose crimes are motivated by very serious underlying causes which cannot but deserve respect and thorough consideration. In other words, Pushkin's sympathetic portrayal of most criminals is caused not only by his principle "milost' k padshim prizyvat'," but also by the fact that Pushkin sees some truth in their rebellion.

In order to substantiate these suggestions, I intend to discuss two major types of criminals in Pushkin: immoral "madmen" ("bezumcy"), like Don Juan, Pugachev and the Pretender who are infatuated with the idea of absolute freedom, and "intellectuals," like Salieri, Boris Godunov and the covetous Knight, whose crimes are motivated by existential protest against world injustice/God.

If time allows, I would also like to dwell upon the character of Evgenij (The Bronze Horseman) whose challenge to the statue of Peter the Great is, in my opinion, an existential rebellion as well. In conclusion I am planning to point out the connection between Pushkin's portrayal of criminals and demonic motifs in his works.