Book Reviews

Oblomow by Ivan Gontsjarov – Book Review

Ilja Iljitsj Oblomow is the laziest person you will ever meet. The only thing he does all day is sit in his bed, eat and drink. Because of his laziness, his house isn’t in order, his lackey steals from him and his so called ‘friends’ use him for his money. Oblomow is the ultimate procrastinator and sometimes you might see yourself in him.

Have you ever had that moment where you wanted or needed to do something but just always put it out until tomorrow? You might have to make an essay, or you might need to call your grandmother, but for some other reason you just postpone it every single day. Until you reach a point that it is almost impossible to do otherwise than postpone it and thus you postpone it forever. This book writes brilliantly about that feeling.

I think we have all met an Oblomow. It’s that person where you talk to and when you talk to him or her about ideas, they are full of enthusiasm, full of energy. But when you leave or want to act upon those ideas, they fall short. They have something to do which needs their urgent attention. Their health isn’t what it should be. Or it just isn’t the right time.

Personally, I always encounter this when I talk about the year I took off from studying to travel to Australia and work there. Most of the time when I talk about this year, I hear the same sentence: ‘I want to do that as well!’ My reaction is always the same: ‘What is stopping you?’ And always I get the same reactions. My parents would never let me! But what about school? I have to finish that first! Oh no, I just got this job, I can’t go away now! I now have a word for those people: Oblomows. Now I don’t think negatively of those people in any way. I just believe they don’t have their priorities straight and should think about what they want in life.

When Oblomow is asked what his dream is, he has an answer ready. His dream is sitting in his house, waking up when the sun is shining. He goes downstairs to have a perfect meal. Then he sits outside in his chair, half-sleeping and enjoying the sunny weather. This is an Oblomowism. It’s a dream where the dream is just a moment or a single day. It isn’t anything substantial or meaningful in itself. It is the feeling of rest forever. The dream is the equivalent of sitting in a beach chair sipping a margarita while watching the sun set. Though both dreams are beautiful, what comes next? Will you do this for the rest of your life? If you reach your beach dream when you’re sixty, are you going to sit there for twenty more years? Or what if it rains and you can’t sit outside and thus not have your feeling of calm and serenity?

The combination of the two, the procrastination and unattainable dream, is the story of Oblomow. It is the story of someone who lives a reactionary life. Someone who rather shoves away responsibility for the things happening in his life than to do the effort of dealing with these responsibilities. Because of this he gets blackmailed and tricked by his ‘friends’. But it doesn’t matter to him because he lives in the illusion of utter bliss.

This theme is something Gontsjarov describes perfectly. It’s a sad story where you hope for Oblomow to straighten his life and to not push himself down. It is the story of unfulfilled potential. And that’s a story which I believe is all too common.

By elenchusphilosophy

Philosophy student from Ghent, Belgium. I write about what I find interesting which is about nearly anything. Though my guiding question in life is how to be a good person.

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