Peter The Great

Peter the Great was a formidable leader, creating an era of heavy changes in Russia as it began to Westernize through his multiple reforms. However, the majority of his reforms tend to focus on social hierarchy and importance of having or obtaining a title for oneself. For example, the Table of Ranks “expressed new definitions of nobility and opened up new avenues of achieving it” ((Kaiser and Marker 228)) in order to suppress the boyars and other nobility from the previous years. Peter the Great desire to create different ways to either obtain nobility or move up the social ladder can be understood as a way to get rid of the old system set in place or as a way to implement western culture in Russian life through the notion of the class system.


Through the enforcement of the Table of Ranks, the chin system was set in place, a “system of rank ordering and niche assignment” ((Kaiser and Marker 232)) . This rank-ordering system created a competition within the people of Russia to try and be the closest to the tsar; the Table of Ranks made it clear how all offices were to interact with each other. Even more importantly, the Table of Ranks “indicated [the officer’s] proximity to the Emperor” (Kaiser and Marker 233). Peter the Great also created ways to give certain people positions higher up in the office, through “birth, time spent in office, or because of skills or actions valued by the Emperor” (Kaiser and Marker 234). Peter the Great’s reforms focused heavily on establishing a social hierarchy in order to continue Westernizing Russia.

The Overcoat

The language and imagery with which Nikolai Gogol writes allows the reader to further identify with the plight of Akaky Akakievich Bashmachin and his need to buy a new coat. This story really discusses how class affected how people interacted with one another and how people had to behave in order to live according to the social norms of the time. Akaky believed that by having a proper coat, he would be more successful in his job, however his need to conform to this social norm that results in his death. However, Gogol introduces the true cause of Akaky’s death, the drastic differences between the social classes and those trapped in the middle. Akaky was not in the lowest class nor was he in the upper class; this put him in a bit of a limbo, especially when one reads of the interactions between him and the Important Person. The greatest difference between the two characters is their standing in the social hierarchy and what one finds to be more important. To Akaky the coat represented the hours he worked and the things he and his family had to forgo in order to afford that coat, while to the Important Person it’s simply a coat. The ghost of Akaky’s new goal is to take the coats from others to compensate for his own stolen one. The final scene in which the Important Person gets his own coat stolen almost seems to symbolize the rise of the lower class over the higher ranked officials.

I was interesting to me to read this story and made me question why and how this story was published as it insults the social hierarchy and the importance of certain people. How did the general public view this story? Was it popular among a specific group of people?

The Economic and Social Development of Russia in the Eighteenth Century.

Serfdom lasted much longer in Russia than in other Western countries because of the economic disadvantages Russia faced. As a result of Peter the Great and the developments he made to the social and economic structures. However, there still seemed to be a huge separation between the nobility and wealthy upper class and the peasants. It seemed that during this time, the rich became richer and the poor became poorer, even clergy lost the status they once had. Clergy became poorer as they lost more revenue and were taxed more and lost land to accommodate for the immense changes being made to the general structure of the empire. Catherine the Great’s empire grew in numbers and in strength and power, however the tsars of Imperial Russia began spending outside of their means to promote the Russian Enlightenment.

In this class, most of the material we’ve read focused mainly on the nobility and upper classes so it was interesting to read a bit more on the lower classes and the struggles they went through while the nobility and upper classes experienced the Russian Enlightenment. Which makes me question how many people were actually affected by the Russian Enlightenment and how was the response to it? How many peasants and lower class citizens aware of the tsar and was there any real contact between the two classes? And how aware were the tsars of the great difference between the lower and upper classes and was there anything really done to rectify it?

Domostroi Chapters 19-34

The Domostroi focused heavily on religion and obedience and how it is relevant in all aspects of life regardless of social class. Everything in a true Russian Christian’s life must be blessed or prayed on so that God will bless their work. This how-to also instructed men on how to look for a good wife and what made a good wife. A good wife must have all the qualities of a hard worker, a good mother, and is one who puts her family before herself. However the key is that a good woman must be devout and loyal. The next chapter discussed the hierarchal system of the household. The man of the house teaches all, and the power trickles down from the wife to children then to servants. There were heavy religious overtones that described obedience as being extremely important in a servant or a slave in the context that they must be religious and God-fearing, but masters should not abuse their power or position. The Domostroi also instructs good Christians on how to hire people, the requirements for a good servant being a God fearing individual as well as being handy in their respected craft, never have sinned, prone to good deeds. Overall one should be a good Christian; slave should use master’s goods. Another requirement is for servants to save their better clothes for holy days and when public, never when doing work, clean when done.

The Domostroi is quick to claim that God doesn’t discriminate based on class. In order to protect oneself from illnesses, one must stay away from sorcerers, Jews and pagan rituals. If one is ill, the only cure is to pray away the sick, essentially be a good Christian and God will heal all illnesses, God sends diseases to punish sinners. If one does not obey the commandments one will go to hell. It reverts back to the golden rule of do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Another way to live as a good Christian is to not live outside one’s means and to buy and use what one can afford to. If one lives beyond their worth they will be scorned and ridiculed. If one lives outside their means, no one will help them because it is considered a major sin because it does not please god to live outside one’s means. This is especially shown if one has slaves but cannot afford them. The fear is that the slaves will not be obedient and as a result they will rob, steal, drink, if owned by foolish people.

Role of women was greatly discussed. The overall theme was that men must teach women, but be gentle and civil and not cruel, wives should always be obedient and devout. A good housewife is intelligent, frugal, gentle, generous and devout. A way to keep frugal is to save scraps from cloth used to make clothes to save to use for later. It is important to create a good workspace for each distinct craft, so as to prevent clutter to keep a good and clean household. Another way to keep a good household is to not gossip or entertain gossip. It is also the mistress’ duty to oversee servants’ work, to reward servants for good work, and if the servants do not do their work well, to punish them. Above all, a wife must be loyal and obedient, knowledgeable and social, ask their husband’s advice on everything, obey husband regardless of where she is, do not drink, and behave properly.