Desire and the Will to Power in Dostoevskys story “The Meek One”
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Desire to possess a person instead of respecting their freedom is a perverse way of human affection, as Dostoevsky proves in his story “The Meek One”, otherwise known as “A Gentle Creature”. With his typical psychological vision, the author investigates the motives of human behavior, which make people take power over their peers. In the course of the narrator’s confessional monologue, his twisted love for his wife is unveiled, which is caused by his desire to compensate for past humiliation. Because he submitted to other people’s will in the past, his self-respect was damaged, so an idea of breaking a free spirit of a young woman looked as reconciliation to him.
At the beginning of the story, the author describes the acquaintance of the narrator a pawnshop broker, and a very poor girl, exploited by her aunts. The narrator’s reminiscences of the past in front his dead wife’s body are not introduced merely for the sake of setting or emotional context. Nothing is accidental in the story’s structure or the tiny details provided by the author. The scenes of the two people’s meeting in a pawnshop explain the idea why the narrator got interested in the girl. Indeed, it might sound strange that a man of forty-one, having his own business, was not only attracted to a poor and helpless girl of sixteen but decided to propose her a marriage. It is clear that neither love nor passion was the reason for the narrator’s decision. Yet, the word “passion” in a different sense can describe the feeling that he got for the girl, which was caused neither for her beauty, nor her status. The narrator got intrigued by her free and independent spirit, which was very surprising to discover taking into account her hopeless situation. Moreover, her hopeless situation is the main reason why he decided to marry her. In this case, she would be totally in his power, so the man would be in the position of God, able to reward or to punish her depending on his will at a certain moment. Breaking her spirit before revealing his true noble nature was actually his plan. “Proud, is she! "I like proud people," I thought. Proud people are particularly nice when... well, when one has no doubt of one's power over them, eh? Oh, base, tactless man! Oh, how pleased I was!” ( Dostoevsky, p.259) So, the situation of the pawnbroker’s meeting the meek one is the first step in the man’s moral degradation, which caused a tragedy to happen.
When considering the concept of power and its work in the relationship of the two characters, it is worth paying attention at the circumstances that shaped their personalities. Speaking about the narrator, he used to be a noble man, an army officer but later he was excluded from his regiment because of cowardice. As a result, he lost his status and has to struggle for survival by falling low, which is humiliating for him. In fact, he faces the same poverty as “the meek one” but there is a huge difference between them. The man cannot accept the fact that the girl has her own dignity despite being in trouble. This makes him realize that despite her use and seeming fragility she is apparently much stronger than him. It is difficult for the man to accept his wife’s moral superiority, and this is why he intends to break her spirit and her dignity by morally torturing her. The past which is full of shame makes him start a new life, and stay out of touch with his former surrounding. His domination is an attempt to make her obedient before she learns about his past and becomes superior as a result. The man is afraid that if she stays independent, she will ridicule him and thus join the circle of his enemies. So, the ultimate reason for the narrator’s desire of power is his loneliness and his willingness to compensate his vulnerability by violence. He is pleased with the result, the meek one now belongs to hum: “And, above all, even at that time I already regarded her as mine, and not for one moment did I doubt my own power.”( Dostoevsky, p.255). However, the man is too short-sighted to see anything about his conceited love, which he believes is his main justification. The idea that love can justify dominance and even violence is not new, but Dostoevesky gives it a special perspective.
Speaking about the girl, the meek one, it is worth saying that despite her fragile appearance she is quite strong. There is a considerable difference between being meek or humble and being weak, and it is deeply rooted in Christianity. It is not accidental that the girl commits suicide with an icon in her hands, though it seems to contradict the core religious principles. As a researcher points out, “humility is understood as knowing and understanding one’s real worth without at the same time any feeling of superiority. It carries with it the idea of submission and obedience to the will of a higher power, usually God, such that all other human demands pale in importance and all suffering is tolerable because of a striving for a higher goal. It results in a sense of dignity that is founded upon higher principles”( Belknap). So, the meek one’s humility is of this kind, and this is why it is so difficult for her to tolerate her husband’s dominance. She does not put up with his power silently but tries to rebel, which eventually destroys her. Because of her unhappiness caused by her husband’s unworthy behavior and emphasized coldness to her, she wants to prove that she can also behave in the same way. This is why she finds a lover, a former colleague of her husband, Yefimovich. In fact, the meek one tries to get rid of her meekness and her dignity but after all she is unable to make it to the full extent. Yet, the stage of rebellion that goes after meekness is quite important because all the girl’s attempts to revenge her husband are taken in order to make him treat her in a different way. For a moment, he has a revelation when he hears her singing. This is a kind of reminder that the girl is alive, despite his tyranny. The man realizes that he has treated her cruelly and promises to change; it occurs to him that his own past issues with society are not her fault. So, he believes that it is possible for them to start a new life, to start sharing their feelings with each other. He is inspired and prepares to take her to a French resort for the new beginning. However, even this joy of his is egoistic because he is obsessed only with his feelings again. This is why her suicide is unexpected to him; he does not understand that it is too late, that he has managed to humiliate her in the way that it is hard for her to reconcile with her own values.
The model of such competitive relationship in a couple is based on the principle that one has to dominate in order to be in a privileged position. However, because the inner moral law is based on love, respect and non-violence, the girl’s attempts to revenge to her husband fail In fact, she does not want revenge, she wants him to talk to her and open his heart. The meek one has a strong belief in marriage as a confessional institution, so she hopes for her husband to stop ignoring her. The man has a whole range of manipulative strategies to dominate over the meek one. The strongest one is his silence, which is aimed at creating an enigmatic image for himself. By overt reluctance to communicate with his wife he makes her feel lonely and isolated, and this is what is necessary to establish one’s power over a person. As for the man, his manipulation and experimenting with his wife goes so far that even under a gun pointed at him he thinks what effect it will eventually make at his wife and how this will eventually increase her power over her. Until the end, when the meek one commits a suicide, the narrator seems to be unaware about her suffering, as well as about her inner world overall. Instead, he focuses on his plans that run through his mind and create a picture, which is far from being true to life. So, the girl fades away as a flower unable to fulfill her love and attachment in marriage.
To conclude, it is worth saying that the concept of power is a crucial one in the story. The narrator chooses the meek one to marry because he is sure that he will be able to have absolute power over her. As a result, the girl tries to submit as there is no other way out for her, but she gradually destroys herself by life like this. The major reason for the character’s execution of power is his past loss, which isolated him from other people. To get rid of humiliation, the man chooses to humiliate the other person in order to please his hurt ego.
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