Resurrection is one man’s story of atonement for a sin committed in his youth. Partly based on a true story and partly autobiographical, the story tells us of Dmitri Ivanovich Nekhlyudov’s attempt to make amends to Katerina Maslova (Katusha) whom he seduces and abandons, and whom he considers being the primary cause for her moral degradation and physical suffering. Seeing her after years as a jury member, and being partly responsible for the careless verdict which causes a miscarriage of justice, Nekhlyudov makes it his mission to seek justice for her and to redress this unfair sentence. While taking this course of action, Nekhlyudov realizes that it was not the criminal justice system that is guilty towards her but himself. This was Nekhlyudov’s much-needed awakening, and it causes him to reconsider his life led in idle debauchery.
The novel is a strong attack on the criminal justice system. The miscarriage of justice was only a tool for Tolstoy to probe into the defects and abuses of power within the institutions that exercised criminal justice. It also allowed Tolstoy to expose the appalling conditions of the prisons and the degradations to which prisoners were subjected. This revelation is truly shocking. It looks as if the Russian criminal justice system was running on the whims and fancies of the upper-class men who thought it just to condemn those who were not on par with them either in class or in views.
The main storyline of Katusha and Nekhlyudov is based on a true account that Tolstoy heard from a lawyer friend. The injustice of what he heard and his youthful life of debauchery inspired the indignant and remorseful Tolstoy to create this sensitive story. Having turned towards a spiritual life, Tolstoy may have felt the need for self atonement.
Resurrection is both a story and a social commentary. While the main story portrays the shallowness of the idle upper-class nobility and their sickening misconducts towards those who are below them in class, it also serves as a means to expose the judicial and social injustice, especially towards the lower classes, and bureaucratic callousness in general. Tolstoy brings out all these with so much power and in detail. When he tells the story of Katusha, her sufferings, her fall in society, he tells it with such warmth. Only when he attacks the unjust criminal justice system, the ignorant and callous bureaucrats, and the system of governance in general, that he tends to be preachy.
However powerful the theme and sensitive the story was, the novel failed to engross me fully. This could either be due to his preachy tone that disturbed the warm feel of the story, or the social commentary overriding the storyline. It could also be due to my not understanding Nekhlyudov’s resurrection fully. Tolstoy failed here to convince me that he was in truth “resurrected”, that he had altered his lifestyle with one mind. Throughout the story, one can see him wavering. Call me sentimental, but the very fact that Katusha and Nekhlyudov weren’t united gave the impression that Nekhlyudov was not fully within the path. And even though Tolstoy stresses it as Katusha’s decision, and that she didn’t accept his sacrifice out of love for him, it sounded like a very lame excuse to my ears. I couldn’t help feeling that Tolstoy’s attempt at absolving Nekhlyudov was somehow not a success.