Eugene onegin analysis
From the exterior perspective, Eugene Onegin, the protagonist in Pushkin’s novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, is the combination of perfection. He is externally attractive, with his elegant and exquisite attires, his high social status and his wealth.
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He never worries about his livelihood and income, since he never has to work to sustain himself. His main activity is to entertain himself, like attaining balls and theatres, and flirting with women. However, in contrast, all these luxurious life fails to make him internally happy and satisfied. Pushkin implies Eugene’s gloomy mood even before the novel begins: “The heart’s reflections, writ in tears” (2).
The origin of his passive mood is not explicitly explained in the novel. Although Pushkin keeps emphasizing that Eugene gets bored with the balls, the shows, and people around him, his moan and groan still seem come from nowhere. It is hard to get to Eugene’s deep inside to analyze the origin of his negative attitudes, since he keeps feigning his feelings. One important quality of Eugene’s character is his mendacity. Pushkin directly reveals his mendacity at the beginning of the stanza 8 in chapter
1. Eugene’s character in the novel is like the costume of actors, presenting what he wants others to believe he is, instead of whom he is. Besides the obvious descriptions like “dissemble” and “conceal his hopes,” the author uses the word “play” to describe Eugene’s character (Pushkin 9). Eugene is not being himself. He is playing a role. Eugene’s every behavior and act is the decoration of his exterior appearance, instead of expressions of his feelings and emotions.
His cheers in the theatre are not from his genuinely appreciation of the performance, but because “everyone has heard his voice” (11). Under his splendid appearance, what is the genuine character of Eugene? Tatyana failed to identify Eugene’s sincerity through the end of the novel. At the reunion between Eugene and Tatyana, Tanya hesitates: “what role does he intend to fill?/Childe Harold? Melmoth for a while?/ Cosmopolite? A Slavophile?/ A Quaker? Bigot?” (188).
Pushkin does not present a constant character in this novel that everyone agrees to be the real character of Eugene. Pushkin uses several binaries: “proud” and “forbearing,” “attentive” and “uncaring” to describe his mercurial character (9). Then, which description is the real Eugene? It is none of them since all these features are feigned by Eugene.
He looks proud because he wants to present his noble status, but he wants to ingratiate others, not because he cares about them, but because he needs attention and adoration from others. Eugene pays much attention to his appearance, to how he looks like in front of the general public. He spends much time in front of the mirror, “dressed, undressed, and dressed again” (14). He minds “the beauty of his nails” (15).
All these come from his excessive attention to other people’s opinions and comments on him. “Now, my Eugene, Chadayev’s double,/ From jealous critics fearing trouble” (15). Eugene is sensitive about other people’s comments.
Eugene’s obsession with his exquisite appearance could suggest that he pays much attention to his social networking, to leave a perfect impression on other people. However, he fails to build up any of the important relationship with other people in the society.
In stanza 44 in chapter 1, Pushkin mentions Eugene’s “emptiness that plagues his soul” (23). One possibility that he is playing his roles is his lack of motive to build up connections with the society. His inside is empty. He does not have strong and genuine feelings and emotions to guide him to develop close and sincere relationship with significant others.
To maintain his connections with others, he can only create his feelings and feigning them. Although he is surrounded with people throughout the novel, Eugene lacks the three important affections and social relationship that could bring him happiness and satisfaction: the affection of family bond, friendship and romance.
Eugene’s father died and leaves Eugene some inheritance. “Eugene, detesting litigation/ And quite contended with his fate,/ Released to them the whole estate…” (27). Eugene does not have a strong emotional bond with his dad. The only issue that links them together is the inheritance.
However, in Eugene’s eyes, this only link still annoys him. Eugene does not have emotional bond with his uncle as well, one of his few family relatives in this novel. At the beginning of the novel, Eugene keeps complaining about his uncle: “And, oh, how base to pamper grossly/ And entertain the nearly dead,/ To fluff the pillows for his head,/And pass him medicines morosely—/While thinking under every sigh:/ The devil take you, Uncle. Die!’” (5).
Eugene thinks of his uncle as a patient who needs him to take care of, instead of his family relative. Therefore, Eugene never has a family member with whom he builds up a close relationship, and he doesn’t have a family-affection part in his soul.
Eugene’s only friend in this novel is Vladmir Lensky. “Throughout that barren, dim dominion/ Eugene alone could see hi worth;/ And Lensky formed a low opinion/ Of neighbors’ feasts and rounds of mirth” (40). Although Lensky’s background is similar Eugene’s, wealthy, handsome and educated, his character is the opposite.
They become friends not because they have like-minded personalities. Exactly at the opposite, “Their natures (are) distant and apart” (41). Their friendship is not built up by similarities or appreciation between each other. They become friends “from sheer ennui” (41).
So the foundation of their friendship is not solid. Indeed, their friendship breaks up because of Eugene’s close connection with Olga, Lensky’s girlfriend, and their duel eventually. Eugene kills his only friend, and his only friendship in his life.
Although he regrets after he accepts Lensky’s duel offer, he doesn’t change his mind, because for both of them, social recognition is much more important than the pure friendship. In this novel, it seems impossible for Eugene to lack romance relationship.
He is skilled in dealing with romance relationship, as Pushkin described at the beginning: “How shrewdly he could be inventive/ And playfully astound young, /Use flattery as warm incentive,/ Or frighten with despairing tongue […] At first he’d beg a declaration, / And listen for the heart’s first beat,/ Then stalk love faster—-and entreat/ A lover’s secret assignation” (9).
Expectedly, it is easy for Eugene to build up a close relationship with women around him, and he attracts Tatyana, the heroine of the novel, when they first meet. However, if getting rid of the success of romance on the surface, Eugene does not have any genuine romance in his heart.
As implied in stanza 37 in Chapter 1, “Yes, soon he lost all warmth of feeling:/ The social buz became a bore,/ And all those beauties, once appealing, /Were objects of his thought not more” (21). Eugene never develops a real relationship with any woman although he put much time to learn love itself. Romance for him is merely like a game.
At the end of the novel, suddenly Eugene falls in love with Tatyana. He suffers from absence of Tatyana, writes letters to her and makes every chance to meet her. Is it the genuine love that Eugene has this time? Compared with Tatyana’s pure and sincere love before, Eugene’s affection towards Tatyana is actually from his desire to win in the romance game.
As demonstrated by Tatyana, “Or would my fall perhaps be sport,/ A cause for all the monde to tattle—-/ Which might in turn bring you some claim/ To social scandal’s kind of fame?” (208). Tatyana discloses Eugene’s purpose of showing his love to Tatyana. Throughout the novel, Eugene never feels the genuine love in romance. Therefore, Eugene appears in the novel as an individual, isolated without any emotional bonds.
He is positioned in the society, with his relatives, neighbors, social connections, friends and lovers. However, psychologically, he is not bonded to any of them. He never develops sincere feelings towards any of them. He can only create social relationships by feigning his feelings and personalities, which could explain his mendacities throughout the novel.
Then, why does Eugene lose his passion, his soul and his affections towards others? Pushkin gives some hints in Chapter 4: “In early youth he’d been the prey/ Of every raging mad delusion,/ And uncurbed passions ruled the day” (86). Eugene, in his young age, has many passionate dreams. Although Pushkin doesn’t explicitly indicates what Eugene’s delusions and dreams are, Eugene’s interest is clearly revealed from his education background and his bookshelves.
“Theocritus and Homer bored him,/ But reading Adam Smith restored him” (8). Theocritus and Homer’s masterpieces are strongly appreciated by people at that time, who favors the traditional side of thought. Adam Smith’s thought was relatively new in that era. We can infer that it is hard for Eugene to find a like-minded person. Also, Eugene favors Byron’s novel.
The similarities between Eugene and the heroes in Byron’s novel are individualism and failure. They were both passionate about their dream but they all failed eventually. Besides, they are lonely because they are tired of the mainstream of the society. Therefore, his passion disappears gradually.
“Quite pampered by a life of leisure,/ Enchanted with each passing pleasure,/ But disenchanted just as quick” (86). The word “passing” indicates that the pleasure is temporary. None of his “delusions” has realized. Depressed by failures and psychological loneliness, Eugene can be disappointed, lose his hope, and eventually his affections for other people and his interest in the society.
Despite Eugene’s splendid appearance, his inside is empty. He lacks the family bond, the friendship and the genuine romance relationship. He gets bored with everything, and he is lonely without any significant others. His will is isolated from the mainstream in the society. Without any sincere emotions and affections, mendacity becomes Eugene’s own tool to get social connections and recognition.
Pushkin, Aleksandr Sergeevich. Eugene Onegin. Trans. James E. Falen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.