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Under Western Eyes



Considered one of Conrad's major works, this novel is set in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Geneva, Switzerland, often compared to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

"I would take liberty from any hand as a hungry man would snatch a piece of bread."--Miss Haldin

This is a gripping four-part novel by Joseph Conrad set in Russia during the reign of Tsar Nicholas III. This was a period where the ruling class were very much out of touch with the needs of the working-class, and living and working conditions were literally filthy. Any type of protest that happened was brutally put down, for example the Bloody Sunday peaceful protest march of 1905. The above quote refers to two key issues in the novel - hunger and liberty. Many of the characters in the novel had worked long hours in filthy conditions for low pay just to get by, while their rich employers lived lives of leisure. One of these peasants is Ziemanitch. Introduced in the first part, he works as a horse man, and works at whatever time of the night or day someone needs a lift. He lives in a stable and his one true pleasure is the bottle. Razumov and Haldin are the two main characters who are introduced early on. Although they are both university students in the same class, their personalities are greatly contrasted - Haldin is a leading revolutionary, and spends his time visiting among the poor, including Haldin, while Razumov spends every spare moment studying and avoids the poor altogether if he can. When Haldin makes him go and find Ziemanitch to ask for a ride for him, his reaction on finding him drunk - to beat him - shows that he is out of touch with the reality of what the peasants suffer. Haldin is executed for the assassination of a major government official early on, but he is still looked up to as a leading figure by the revolutionaries in Geneva, where Razumov is sent as a police spy. Because Haldin had so much influence and he believed Razumov to be sympathetic to the revolution, the other revolutionaries warm to Razumov, including Haldin's sister Natalie. Although they assume he is a comrade, he is hiding a dark secret about the night Haldin was arrested. This is a great novel about the ruling class' power over the working class. Today, it is often assumed that the government knows what's best. But, when the gap between the rich and poor widens to the extent that the wealthy become out of touch with the working class' needs, oppression happens. Also, when people assume someone is on their side because of who they associate with, or their manner, the results can be bad. I would recommend this book for senior high school and lower university English courses.--Submitted by Marion Wilson.

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