Analyzing Pushkin's portrayal of Peter the Great in “Bronze Horseman”
Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman opens up as an ambiguous poem at first sight. In the Prologue Pushkin sets up positive perspective toward Peter the Great and the poem in general, however his tone starts to change by the end of the Prologue foreshadowing a change. Throughout part one and part two, the poem continues to spiral downward. The dark imagery throughout the poem emphasizes Pushkin’s negative view and the sullen nature of St. Petersburg and Peter the Great. The opening of the Bronze Horseman portrays Peter the Great standing by the river Neva. He is gazing into the distance and is in deep thoughts about his upcoming plans. As it becomes clear in the second stanza, he is planning to build a great city on this land. The city is St. Petersburg which Tsar Peter I founded in 1703. As of now the place consists of dark forest and empty space. Peter aims to build a city by the river Neva that is located on the Gulf of Finland. The city will be a port city attracting ships from every country, and competing with its neighboring cities across the river. He is planning on westernizing Russia and destroying the old traditions by which it was ruled before. After westernizing St. Petersburg, Peter wants other nations to come and visit the new improved Russia: “all flags will come, to be our guests”(118). As we see in the third stanza the new St. Petersburg becomes the heart of Russia, even the old capital Moscow can’t be compared to the beauty of St. Petersburg, “old Moscow paled before this other metropolis; its just the same as when a widowed Empress-Mother bows to a young Tsaritsa’s claim”(119). The last line of the prologue gives a sense of foreshadowing and changes the mood of the rest of the poem: “grievous the tale will be” (120). Pushkin emphasizes his negative perspective of Peter the Great through telling Yevgeny’s, the main characters story. Yevgeny is a common man of St. Petersburg. He is an unsuccessful and hardworking clerk. He lives in a poor suburb of St. Petersburg. He dreams of marrying his love Parasha, having kids with her, and spending the rest of his life with her. Yevgeny’s desire for a simple life turns upside down after a storm on river Neva that takes away Parasha’s life and destroys entire suburb of Kolomna. The storm takes away everything that Yevgeny once had in his life. Pushkin uses the psychological downfall of Yevgeny to invoke empathy from the reader and show the negative view of Peter the Great and the city of St. Petersburg which once used to be the heart of Russia. Yevgeny becomes a homeless man who is treated very badly: “ all day long he came and went on foot, slept by the water / his clothes wore out to shreds / malicious children would stone him (127). By the end of the story, Yevgeny comes to the statue of Peter the Great and with all hatred, seeing him as the cause of his miserable life warns him saying: “take care / he whisperingly addressed him”(129). When saying this he starts to shiver, realizing that he has just let himself threaten the authority. In his imagination Yevgeny sees that Peter the Great with blazing anger comes off his platform and starts chasing him to death. Here Pushkin shows us the contrast between the small man, who is in this case Yevgeny and Peter the Great, who represents the state. Lower class people lacked freedom of speech and had little power compared to the authority rulers and the state. They couldn’t say anything against the authority; therefore by threatening Peter the Great, Yevgeny realizes that it will cost him his life. Pushkin uses Yevgeny’s story to show how common people in Russia were disregarded. St. Petersburg was built in such a way that it only benefited the upper or noble class of people in Russia. While Yevgeny was trying to make a living for himself, rich people were enjoying luxury balls and parties. The flood didn’t affect the upper class since they lived in...
Cited: 1. Rzhevsky, Nicholas. An Anthology of Russian Literature. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1996. 118-130. Print.
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