Under Western Eyes by Conrad: Summary & Overview

Instructor: Joe Ricker

Joe has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

This lesson will review the summary of Joseph Conrad's ''Under Western Eyes''. The novel depicts the brutal downfall of a Russian university student who acts as a spy for the Russian government.

Under Western Eyes

Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes is a novel that exemplifies Conrad's disdain for Russia. The story follows the life of Razumov, a student at the University of St. Petersburg, during political upheaval in Russia. Razumov is used as a spy by the Russian government after he betrays a fellow student responsible for an assassination. Unlike the glittery and flashy contemporary spy stories, though, Conrad's story comes to a harsh and brutal conclusion.

Personal Conflict

The story begins with a political assassination. Razumov returns to his home to discover that Haldin, a fellow student, is responsible for the assassination. Haldin convinces Razumov to help him by finding his accomplice in the assassination, Ziemianitch. Razumov agrees to help, primarily to get rid of Haldin and separate himself from the potential fallout if anyone discovers that he is an acquaintance. Razumov sets out to find Ziemianitch. Razumov succeeds, but because Ziemianitch is drunk and unable to do anything, Razumov beats him and goes to the authorities to turn him in. Because Razumov has no family and considers Russia to be his only family, he agrees to help the authorities capture Haldin. Razumov returns to his home to explain that Ziemianitch will not be able to help him. Razumov sends Haldin on his way to his demise.

In this part of the narrative, Razumov becomes aware of how isolated he is as a man with no family and a muddled political perspective. After Haldin's capture, Razumov is further questioned by the authorities. After a search of his home and investigation into his writings, Razumov is assured by Privy Councilor Mikulin, that he is not suspected of any wrongdoing. Mikulin recruits Razumov as a government agent for the Russian Empire. Razumov is also informed that, following his interrogation, Haldin was hanged for treason. Relieved that he will not be suspected of any wrongdoing, Razumov agrees to venture to Geneva, Switzerland, as a Russian spy.

Increased Turmoil

In Geneva, Haldin's sister Natalia who is being tutored by the narrator, a professor of languages, learns of her brother's execution. Shortly after, Natalia moves to another home and meets Tekla, secretary to revolutionary Peter Ivanovich. Because there was no way of knowing that Razumov is the man who betrayed her brother, Natalia receives Razumov as a friend. Razumov, who has been sent to Geneva to gain information on Ivanovich, falls in love with Natalia, and his personal turmoil increases because of his position as a government agent, which he has all but abandoned.

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