A hero of our Time

A review of A Hero of our Time by Rob Mason

A classic tale by Mikhail Lermontov of a young officer, Grigory Pechorin and his travels in the Caucasus.  The book holds up a mirror not only to the period in which the book was written but also our own time.  As Anna Winter comments: "Lermontov's novel resonates today in the way it foreshadows contemporary concerns. Russia's problems in central Asia were as intractable then as now. The fatalism displayed by the "superfluous man" heralded the nihilism of modern revolutionary terror. Especially stark is the depiction of the cold machinations that occur in the relationships between men and women, where the other always remains unfathomable."  The Observer.

In terms of heroism itself, William James believed that: “the world is essentially a theatre for heroism, and that our central calling, our main task is the heroic.” One of the key concepts for understanding man’s urge to heroism is the idea of “narcissism,” being hopelessly absorbed with oneself.  However, in man a working level of narcissism is inseparable from self-esteem or self-worth. The fact is that society is and always has been : a symbolic action system, a structure of statuses and roles, customs and rules for behaviour, designed to serve as a vehicle for earthly heroism.  However, the irony of this story is that, here we have a hero without a cause.  Grigory Pechorin himself says, "I run through the memory of my past in it's entirety and can't help asking myself: why have I lived?