A little bit of background: This was written for a class I'm taking in Russian Lit. I got the topic, and I kept thinking "he's basically asking me to write fanfiction..." and this is what came of it. I was told to write a three page response to Gogol's character Chichikov from a serf's point of view telling him what I thought of his plan of buying dead souls. I had to present my paper in class, and I focus a lot on the Russian identity in this writing, and even in my debates, because later this semester I'll be writing a paper contrasting/comparing three of the novels I have to read in regards to how they showcase the growing sense of national identity in Russia vs. the rise of ethnic tension and violence throughout the country.
So without further ado: The Mind of a Serf
I know that what I say is of little or no consequence to a man of your standing. In fact, I would be surprised if you would even take the time of day to notice someone such as myself as I existed in the mortal plane, let alone what little my existence is now. If asked, you could not even recall what my name is, or rather was. The only reason you might recognize it if mentioned is because my former master wrote it down for you. You do not remember my father's name, or my mother's. You were also told of my and my friends' varying levels of sobriety. Can you remember if I drank or not? You are lucky I never touched a drop of vodka while I worked, and that you have "gotten your money's worth" in buying me, however few kopecks that may have been. He also wrote down my skill with leather goods, but you do not remember, do you?
In life, my lord cared for me. He appraised the dark, inky black of my finished leather. The fine enamel I applied by hand. He lovingly recorded my life's particulars on that piece of paper you have. He can still remember the varnished leather I made that later became his boots. But you never felt the supple materials I created. You never tipped your hat to me, nor did you ever ask about my family.
I am a name on a piece of paper. I could not read or write, I could not speak French, I could not discuss the political happenings of Western Europe with my fellow landowners. For this, you treat me with indifference. To you, I am nothing but that piece of paper- not even a piece of paper! Three names neatly printed in a list of many. You could not even be bothered to squint to make out the shape of each letter, as unique as I was in flesh. I am, or was, a person, not that you care, but I would like to make it known. I did exist. Still do in fact, though six feet beneath the same soil I once worked.
I will admit I was curious as to what you might need with my immortal soul. I even lingered to find out why my rest should be disturbed by such a small matter as ownership. Of course, it still does not really make sense to me now, even though I know what you mean to do, though it still makes me angry.
You would use us further than we have been used to increase your social standing, for money? For a loan on me, on my friends, on my family? It is not enough to be a member of the nobility, to be educated and well dressed? To be paid by your living peasants?
Of course, it must be nice to not have such a debt on your own head. I can imagine it now. Living the easy life; vodka and cards with your friends in the parlor, while your pretty, young wife serves delicate little plum tarts. So nice, so simple.
But you do not deserve it. What have you ever done to deserve sitting around doing nothing all day? You have never burned your hands on red-hot iron, tilled a field, or even built a simple cabinet. You have never spent a winter living in a small hut, huddled around a slowly dying fire with no more wood left to burn. You have never gone out to harvest, and come back inside with every muscle burning, knowing you would have to go back out and do it all over again the next day and the day after that. You have never gone hungry so that your children could eat. What work have you ever done to deserve such luxury?
Though it is not my place, I feel as if it needs to be said. Not that you are listening, not that I should even complain. We all have our lot in life, and it is up to us to make the best of it. No, none of us have really done anything to deserve what we are given. It is simply the luck of the draw, and we are resigned to our fate.
But not Chichikov. Never Chichikov. Chichikov deserves the best. He deserves to take out a loan upon my eternal life, and let me rest in debt. He deserves a big house in the country. He deserves to profit from our death.
You silly man. You thought you were so smart. All my indignance is justly served, though I was not even alive to submit my complaint- little good it would do, seeing as you bureaucrats have your little webs and corruptions. You thought you could cheat the world, and get away with it. Well you were wrong. I would laugh in your face if I had a real, living body. It is enough for me that you have lost everything. A man cannot change his stars and you were foolish to try.
And yet, you still own me. It is never enough. Not for a Russian. Not even my life's work could satisfy my debt to the powers that be for giving me the gift of life. Not even death can set me free.
Before, you stated that no one can know what goes on in the mind of a serf. No one can know unless they listen. We are people, and just because we are uneducated, it does not mean we cannot think. It does not mean we do not hold our own opinions, though maybe not on the same things you do. You talk of the workings of "polite" society, while I share my thoughts on the proper method for maintaining crops. I can understand your lifestyle, and how easy it would be for me to live it, but you could not live mine. Your hands, so soft and uncallused would break and bleed before a single day was through.
You want to know what a serf thinks? I will tell you.
We think you are weak. We think you are careless. We think the rich are too extravagant. We think you have forgotten what it means to be Russian.