A duel is defined as a contest that takes place upon consensual agreement by two parties, utilizes deadly weapons and is used as a means of resolving a private dispute (Cathrein, 2019).
Aleksandr Pushkin’s text examines the peculiarities of the duel between two of its characters; Silvio and the count. The conflict between these two characters arises from the envy and resentment presented by the character of Silvio against the young charismatic count. Upon the arrival of the Count, Silvio instantaneously takes a hatred to him and seeks to quarrel with him albeit over frivolous things. He provokes the Count during a ball by whispering a grossly insulting remark in his ear, the Count is infuriated and on that same night, they set out for a duel (Pushkin, 2014). However, during the duel, the Count’s disregard for death and Silvio as an opponent is evident from his behavior and Silvio decides to wait for a more opportune moment to challenge his rival.
The young men at the regiment and regard Valor as a virtue above all else and consider it an incontrovertible excuse for all of life’s vices (Pushkin, 2014). A duel was the most popular event to display such courage. Silvio’s attitude towards a duel is seen to be increasingly controversial. He provokes the initial duel with the Count over an imaginary problem, makes the count shoot but refuses to take his own shot. He then waits five whole years for the most opportune moment to make good of his obligation to the duel. He encourages the count to shoot, the count misses and he, with instantaneous accuracy, shoots towards the spot that the Count had fired at and seals it. It is difficult to see how his vindictive purpose is fulfilled by these actions and even more controversial is his attitude to the duel challenge presented by the young Lieutenant at the regiment. He displays grudging generosity against his assailant despite the nature of the conflict necessitating a resolution via duel. The Count initially deals with the sentiments of other people and the seriousness of the duel with excessive frivolity as seen when casually eats cherries despite the overwhelming threat of death in his initial duel with Silvio. However, he is eventually awakened to the seriousness of the duel when he has married and thus acquired an inestimable value to his own life. A development that Silvio anticipates and is more than willing to manipulate in order to regain his honor (Bubnova, 2016).
The story presents a contrast in the applicability of a duel in the resolution of a conflict. There is an attempt, within the context of the story, to show the balance that a duel creates through the actions of Silvio. The duel presents a unique and practical way for the participants to make peace as the outcome of a duel appears to be binding and allows a sense of vindication for Silvio and honorable defeat for the Count. (Bubnova, 2016). In spite of this, there is also evidence of the resultant disgruntled disposition of the ‘loser’ that the duel creates if one looks at it from the point of view of the Count. From the story, it would appear that, for a duel to be successful in ending conflict, it must result in death or serious injury to either one or both of the participants and anything less of this kind of outcome will often lead to more duelling. The duel seems to be an absurd, painstaking, extended and unnecessary process to resolve such small conflicts and outstanding criticism of the practice is offered by the story. One is baffled as to why Silvio would have to wait five long years to settle a conflict that seemingly has very little grounding on fact or real events but rather, is based on his own distorted perception of others and himself. It is also peculiar, that after such a long wait and while at the peak of his brewing resentment, he refuses to exercise his right to take the first shot but rather decides to cast lots once again against the Count whom he knows, from experience, is favored by luck (Bubnova, 2016). Despite the romanticism associated with duels today, it was a practice that terminated many young lives in its age and by the end of the 19th century when nations had lost innumerable young men via Civil War, practices that constituted felling those that remained were considered utterly distasteful. Perhaps this is the reason why the Russian government made several attempts to outlaw the practice and was eventually successful