Pushkin’s novel “The Captain’s Daughter” effectively explores duality throughout his history of the Pugachev Rebellion. The duality present in the prose and character development also enable the reader to understand the duality present in society between the aristocracy and the peasantry. His decision to defy the censorship of the rebellion and go against the government in writing his novel define him as true rebel. Pushkin’s exploration of genre and character also serve to communicate a humanity that was previously nonexistent in regard to Yemelyan Pugachev, and humanizes the characters in a sympathetic and real manner. This powerful theme that Pushkin adopts throughout his novel effectually delivers the controversial history through a striking form that brought details of the past into conversation.
The protagonist of the novel, Pyotr Andreyich, is a young boy indicative of Pushkin himself. Andreyich is a poor aristocrat who leaves home to join the military. Andreyich falls for the Captain’s Daughter, Masha, and she becomes the muse for his poetry. Upon hearing Andreyich’s poem, Shvabrine exclaims “Oho! A touchy poet and a modest lover!”(31). Pushkin, also an aristocrat who left home to join the military – and ultimately drop out –is a poet. Unlike Andreyich, he is considered to be one of the greatest poets in Russian history. Throughout his lifetime, Pushkin consorted with many revolutionaries and secret organizations before his arrest and eventual release by Nicholas I. Again, he shares a similarity with Andreyich who at the end of the novel is detained due to his association with the violent nihilist, Pugachev. The self-insertion of Pushkin in his novel as Pyotr Andreyich allows him to tell the history through his point of view.
The first-person point of view is the primary medium that the duality of the novel comes through. As a child, Andreyich had a French tutor, Monsieur Beaupré, who was essentially useless. The tutor spent his days chasing women and “’he was not an enemy of the bottle’, as he put it” (2). Their days of merriment came to a halt when Andreyich’s father caught him making a kite out of a map and fired the Frenchman. The role of the Frenchman so early on in the novel serves to establish the dichotomy of society. The aristocrats were mostly concerned with the language of the court – French – that they put little emphasis on learning how to be Russian. In this sense, the peasants were the most connected with Russia and Russian culture. Savelyich, Andreyich’s servant, had taught the boy “by the age of twelve… to read and write Russian” (2). The Frenchman “preferred to pick up some Russian from [Pyotr]” which strengthens the aristocratic disconnect by having one of the bourgeois learning the Russian language from a peasant through his student (2). The Russian aristocracy had to learn how to be Russian from the lower classes revealing the ironic societal divide examined by Pushkin.
Andreyich eventually leaves home and encounters Pugachev, another instance of duality in the novel. When we first see Pugachev, he is struggling for his life in a snowstorm. Andreyich saves his life and they become friends. Later we encounter him in a position of power as the “imposter” Andreyich describes him as. The dichotomy here is Pugachev as a friend and comrade opposed to Pugachev the fierce rebel. Pushkin writes that the men he surrounded himself with “all treated another as comrades and showed no particular deference to their leader” (71). The people Pugachev is closest to act as friends rather than as each other’s superior. He rules over his regime with charisma rather than instilling fear. His charismatic side does not appear to be an act, he genuinely cares for the individuals he closely consorts with. When Andreyich visits Pugachev later in the novel, “his assumed air of importance suddenly disappear[s]” illustrating once more that his role as a revolutionary is his second nature, his “assumed” air is one that he had to build and maintain (97). He upholds his act as long as is necessary, and breaks it when a friend is near.
In private, Pugachev tells Andreyich “’I am cramped, I cannot do as I like’” which asserts Pushkin’s first-person narrative on the character of Pugachev (99). Although a revolutionary, Pushkin shows that Pugachev did not act of his own volition, often bending to the will of the others in his sect. Without discounting the bloodshed at Pugachev’s hands, Pushkin humanizes the nihilist leader through this dialogue. As previously established, Andreyich represents Pushkin in this work, and by having Andreyich be a confidant of Pugachev implies that Pushkin himself knew Pugachev as well. Prior to this novel, no one had ever publicly written an account of the rebellion that had not been censored. Information about the uprising was hidden by the Russian government and Pugachev was quickly marked a villain and brought to justice. Pushkin took it upon himself to relentlessly study the historical events of the uprising like no one prior to him so that he may write an accurate account of the rebellion. Andreyich might have known Pugachev well, but it was Pushkin who really knew him and was able to bring a soul to the villainous name Pugachev.
The most interesting example of duality in the novel is its genre. Although Pushkin dealt with the infamous Pugachev rebellion, he diffused the tension with occasional comedic scenes. Savelyich is the foremost example of this. He presented Pugachev with a bill of the belongings lost to Andreyich in an attempt to make him pay for them. His presence, alongside the romantic plot of Masha, make the tone of the story lighter. The sporadic comedic scenes interspersed between the drama of the rebellion humanize the characters. No person is serious every waking hour of the day, and these glimpses into the quirks and hilarity of characters make them feel more real to readers. It is in this reality that Pushkin’s novel takes a hold of the reader; the events seem more personable and the reality of the rebellion more horrendous. It brings the rebellion out of the past and into a very real feeling setting.
The duality of the plot in regard to genre as well as the characters is how Pushkin connected the reader to the past. Bakunin described a rebel as one who leads a “rebellion against the state”, and with this definition, Pushkin is a true rebel. The events described in the novel seem disconnected from the Russian people due to the heavy censorship by the government on the Pugachev Rebellion. Pushkin brought the rebellion back into conversation through his vivid characters and plot. His refusal to keep the details of the bloodshed quiet is what makes Pushkin a true rebel.