The Usurper and the Mask of Reality

Submitted by Zainab M. Khalid on Monday, 9/28/2009, at 2:10 AM

There is a fine line between the realm of reality and of delusion that Dostoevsky’s “The Double” brazenly crosses. It delves deep into the frenzied mind of Golyadkin; a world entirely of its own, yet painfully inextricable from the world that he fails to succeed in, fettered with suspicion and fear of the watchful eyes of others. It is the rambling, fantastical story of a titular councilor obsessed with his place in society, scurrying to create a reputation that would garner him the respect and admiration that he sincerely feels he deserves.

What is most striking is that within this stream of action runs a counteractive consciousness; the acute desire to avoid being singled out, which for him ultimately means the humiliation of being subject to the ridicule that inevitably arises from any contact with the social milieu that surrounds him. To this end, on even the slightest suspicion of derision, he moves instinctively to defend his actions, to appear, perhaps from the sinking feeling of his own failure, to be like everyone else. However, at the same time he detaches himself from the society that he seeks acceptance from, establishing a moral difference between himself and those that “wear masks,” identifying his refusal to sully his higher moral fiber to be the reason he is not successful in society.

His reason, though not at all without truth, allows him to nurse his pride; making it a matter not of his own shortcomings, but of society’s depravity. Still, since his existence is latched entirely on what others think when they see him, viewing himself and his actions in terms of the external vision, he is unable to escape that abject humiliation that comes with the knowledge of his insignificance. It is this humiliation that colours the actions of others with malevolent intent and scornful condescension. The jarring paradox of his ambitious yet wretched nature seem evident even to Golyadkin himself at a subconscious level, so that he meets each experience with both an indignant assertion of his will and a meek, pathetic flinch when the eyes of  of the world fall upon him as he carries out that will. The hold of the judgement of others is so strong upon him that it breeds paranoia of an enemy that seeks to ruin him; yet again dividing the world between himself and "the other side."

This dichotomy, both internal and external, is the very source of the dangerous instability in his character that gives birth to Golyadkin junior. This doppelganger appears at the precise moment of Golyadkin's most humiliating efforts of ingratiating with the "well-bred." The split between the two occurs as a result of a power struggle of sorts. The very fact that the two not only have the same appearance, but also the same name and the same job, makes the entire situation seem even more like a case of identity theft, steering the story into the realm of the absurd, where Golyadkin junior is a mask that Golyadkin had failed to use to conceal his weaknesses from society. The original Golyadkin is left with nothing but the desperate sense that he must retrieve the place in society that his copy has wrongfully usurped. But not only does the copy take Golyadkin's place, he manages to achieve everything that Golyadkin could not.

The appearance of this double, coupled with Golyadkin's paranoia and the omission of the voice of any other character involved in the plot, creates an uncertainty, even mistrust, of Golyadkin's vision. Delusions and actuality blur into one single stream of events. But perhaps, to a certain extent, the question of distinguishing fact from illusion is besides the point. The story remains within the discourse of Golyadkin's stream of existence, and to a great extent that consciousness is an entity separate from reality, for illusion and fact are interchangeable. What matters is solely the fear of being replaced, of being completely ostracized as a member of society, and for someone like Golyadkin that would be akin to a non-existence. In the end, Golyadkin is sent away, and his assertion that "there isn't room for both of us" in his letter to his doppelganger comes true. His ultimate defeat in the face of an enemy he is unable, despite extreme effort, to harmonize with smacks of a ruthless society where the artificial prevail, and those that cannot live up to expectations and social decorum (even if they desperately aspire to them) have no use.  

Golyadkin's chilling fate is one that offers great insight into the complexities of man's relationship to his world, but it does not necessarily inspire great sympathy for the protagonist. His is a fate too wretched, selfish and petty, perhaps in a way too wanton in its desires and too hypocritical in its ambitions, and therefore too close to the truth of human existence to instill compassion in any reader. He is, in essence, a "nasty, dirty boot-rag," but, as the text further illucidates, "pride and feelings might have remained concealed deep in its filthy folds and been unable to speak for themselves, but all the same they would have been there" and this is where the anguish of his struggle lies.

The House of the Dead and the Living World

Submitted by Richard S. Hevier on Monday, 9/28/2009, at 12:53 AM

I think that it is difficult to read Dostoevsky's (or rather Aleksandr Petrovich's) account of prison life and not readily think about how it applies and relates to the world outside.  Petrovich undoubtedly realizes this, and finds to time to acknowledge it in one form or another.  At one time posing the question whether people outside the prison are any better than the "unfortunates" within it and another time commenting on the nature of money in the prison, the latter of which, so essential to both worlds, draws easy awareness of their symbolic relationship.  They are, after all, physically separated and contain two different types of people--one "living" and one "dead."  Petrovich, while dubbing the convicts dead, however, will challenge just how different the people within and out of prison life actually are, at times showing a significant juxtaposition and yet often striking similarity.  I think it's fair to say that Petrovich, and better yet Dostoevsky, views their similarities and differences as more or less products of their situation and less so their natures.  The breadth of variation in the personalities of the prisoners, so well illustrated by Petrovich, speaks for the dynamic nature of the house of the dead, and rivals the nuances of its outside free society; he does this by paying incredible attention to the details of its (prison's) inhabitants and their environment, an environment that interestingly, although unfortunates, have an uncanny ability of creating and manipulating on their own.

 I have not investigated into any outside source that may speak of Dostoevsky's many or few reason in writing this incredibly original memoir of such a dark chapter of his life, but his desire to learn and articulate truths, which can be illuminated only by the light they shed on each other, must have been at the forefront.  Besides, although it is noble to give voice to the voiceless, which he had already begun to do in "Poor Folk," the events within prison walls and the activities of those trapped within them mean little if they are not simultaneously thought of in the context of the greater, "living world."  Dostoevsky executes this mission with excellent skill, such as when he most appropriately leaves certain things unsaid.  For instance, when he elaborates on the anecdote where the work crew refuses to work on the barge without a definite assignment, and subsequently becomes the John Henry of convict work crews, he does not, although it could be so easily done, jump out of Petrovich's narratory shoes and pour rhetoric onto the page.  He could have ended the anecdote with something to the effect of:  "See then, that when man is set to work with a definite reward, how furiously he will work!"  I think interjections like these would be detrimental to Petrovich's credibility as a narrator, and make him more of a mouth piece than an observer.  I know that there are moments when Petrovich has his moments of inspiration and interjects with a deep philosophical observation, but Dostoevsky saves his credibility by making them more part of the story than implemented rhetoric.  It’s a difficult line he's treading, trying to make points about one world so detached physically and yet so intertwined metaphysically, but I think that, based on what I've read thus far, he does quite well.

Prison Society

Submitted by Hannah M. Gais on Friday, 9/25/2009, at 5:23 PM

One of the things that particularly struck me was the structured nature of the inmate's society.  From the narrator's description, it seems to be its own sort of microcosm, existing in its own right as a distinct part of the society, or even a society in its own right.  Part of this, I wonder, is caused by the need for order amongst the inmates, as it seems to offer some sort of "meaning" to their whole existence.  That is to say, grouping people based on crimes or some such allows individuals to have some control over such a structured environment.  The prisoners have no say over the length of their sentences, the food served, or the way the guards et al. treat them, but they can certainly control their interactions with other prisoners.

However, another interesting nuance was the way many prisoners seemed to look out for each other, namely with regards to drinking.  The narrator, for instance, notes that a whole group of prisoners would look out for one drunkard, thereby making sure that said individual would stay somewhat safe and prevent them from bothering the guards or making too much noise.  Reading, also, seems to be able to bridge gaps in a similar way.  The narrator notes that while there were a number of Poles that people disliked, they provided some interesting reading material at times.  In these cases, it seems the structure of the prison's society is one where bridges can be made, but certainly only with regards to certain matters, especially with regards to some of the few basic needs that must be met to prevent the inhabitants from becoming completely insane.

Simple Man?

Submitted by Jack L. Seaver on Thursday, 9/24/2009, at 12:34 AM

An interesting dynamic exists between the unnamed narrator in the beginning and Aleksandr Petrovich. When the narrator introduces Aleksandr, he specifically mentions for some time that he is a rather difficult individual, impossible to have a conversation with, and not particularly pleasant. When the story abruptly moves to Aleksandr’s account of prison life, however, this formerly one dimensional man becomes the object of the reader’s sympathy, and the lens through which we see the story.

Aleksandr has a similar habit of viewing people in a rather simple way. When he speaks of Aley, the good-hearted younger brother, his tone is almost reverential, as if he could do no wrong. He describes Nura, the Lezgian, in a similar fashion. It seems to me that the difference between how the narrator perceives Aleksandr, and his true character can be extrapolated to the relationships Aleksandr has with his fellow prisoners, who are undoubtedly more complex than Aleksandr describes them. I think Dostoevsky uses this relationship dynamic for two reasons. The first is to expand the breadth of the world he has created. As Aleksandr himself states, each man in the prison has a story just like his own, and Aleksandr cannot possibly know truly who these men are. The second, more metaphysical reason is to show how humans can never really know one another, and that even spending time with them in the most intimate situation imaginable (indeed, Aleksandr laments how one can never, ever be alone in prison) is not enough to truly understand another human being.

Reflection upon Dostoevsky and Intellectual Freedom in Prison

Submitted by Danielle M. Morrissette on Thursday, 9/24/2009, at 12:06 AM

One thing that kept reoccurring in my mind as I read this is to what extent do these characters actually reflect upon Dostoevsky's life experience? He was also a young, socialist-revolutionary who was sent to years of hard labor in Siberia only to come out a changed man. 

One character that comes to mind is a parricide who despite his twenty-year sentence of hard labor in Siberia, is always found in a merry disposition. Why are subjects in Russia literature unable to reform themselves positively as people outside of solitude or in prison?  Was Russian society that unbearable to create a population of criminals who found more freedom behind prison walls as opposed to on the outside? The riches of Siberia attracted those who wanted to prosper and also attracted tsarist officials who wanted to build prisons. Interesting dichotomy. Siberia the prosperous land of fur and independence from the watchful eyes of the authorities in Saint Petersburg and a place of nothingness and punishment. Yet at the same time it meant freedom for those who reformed themselves, as Dostoevsky did after he left prison. What is the meaning of freedom in Siberia? Is prison really prison or is it also a place for forced self-discovery since there is so much time to contemplate?  I have more questions than answers about the meaning of intellectual freedom in this work.

An Examination of (Further) Narrative Framework

Submitted by Eva M. Becker on Wednesday, 9/23/2009, at 11:17 PM

Fyodor Dostoevsky's House of the Dead invites for a discussion of how its narrative framework functions in the telling of the story, in particular, the way in which Dostoevsky employs authorial removal in approaching the work. What function does authorial removal serve in this particular context, and how does it aid Dostoevsky in narrating a tale suggestive of autobiography? What sort of aesthetic agency does it afford him in using this particular narrative structure?

We have seen in Poor Folk and The Double the epistolary and dialogistic structure, respectively, and have considered how both employ a particular authorial removal that holds us fast within the psychological and emotional realm of the characters themselves. In addition, both works incorporate a subtle, yet powerful note of social criticism that allows for a better understanding of the context of St. Petersburg. It is arguable that House of the Dead, although differing in its narrative structure and setting, uses authorial removal to its advantage, as well, and, despite a change of scenery, scrutinizes the psychological tension within the mind as it interacts with the external world.

Furthermore, it may even be argued that the Siberian prison, both intellectually and spatially removed from reality, affords us an even better look at human nature, as if we were to examine it under a bell jar. Consider, for instance, Alexsandr Petrovich's account in the chapter, "The House of the Dead," of his inmates, whom he likens to a "strange family" (Dostoevsky 32). "They were all madly obsessed with the question of outward behaviour" (32), Alexandr notes of the inmates. Finally, consider how he continues to describe the prison, quoted at length here:

In general vanity and outward appearance were what mattered first and foremost. The majority of these men were depraved and hopelessly corrupt. The scandals and gossip never one dared to rebel against the endogenous and accepted rules of the prison; everyone submitted to them. (32)

Read alongside Poor Folk and The Double, it is clear the Dostoevsky makes a particularly provocative and powerful statement of how humans interact with one another and within a system of laws, videlicet, that regardless of the setting being the cosmopolitan, cutthroat St. Petersburg or the isolated prison camp, the psychological tension of the mind, and the authoritative figurehead, remains constant.

Passive Voices in the Labor Camp

Submitted by Brigitte C. Morency on Wednesday, 9/23/2009, at 10:28 PM

On the topic of character narration:

Did anyone else notice Aleksandr Petrovich's tendency to describe the convicts' lives in the passive past tense? Akim Akimych's story (pp 51-52) is particularly rife with passive voice. For example, the other chieftain "had set fire to [Akim's] fortress and had made a night attack on it" (52). I feel as though this stylistic choice by the narrator (and Dostoevsky) is too pervasive to be accidental. Granted, it may have been the English translator's decision; but, since I can't read it in its original Russian, I'm going to have to assume that the original text contained this type of voice.

Why would Aleksandr speak like this? Maybe it's the dehumanizing environment of the labor camp. The individual has been stripped down by back-breaking labor and terrible living conditions.The passive narration seems to contribute to the overwhelming atmosphere of defeat and exhaustion in the convicts' world. Perhaps an active voice in respect to his fellow inmates is too much for Aleksandr to bear.

The narrator's detachment in "House of the Dead"

Submitted by Elyse J. Yarmosky on Wednesday, 9/23/2009, at 10:26 PM

What I have noticed most while reading "House of the Dead" (I'm only about a third of the way in) is the detached tone of the narrator. His descriptions of the prison and the explanations of what happens inside it's walls are presented straightforwardly and carefully, almost as if he is leading a tour through this experience and wants to point out different characters and customs along the way. Here, dialogue takes a back seat to long descriptions of vodka smuggling and laboring hours, and the reader subsequently is instructed in the destitute atmosphere of the prison.

This particular type of narrating is a refreshing change from the narration in "The Double," which was all over the place and incredibly jarring to read. The narrator often relapses into the warblings of the main character himself, garbling thoughts and going off on wild tangents. There is an astute connection and overlap between narrator and character here. Though in "House of the Dead," the narrator is speaking in first-person, which for all purposes should provide a more in-depth and closer look inside his thoughts and feelings, we are actually provided with a more detached yet straightforward narration that leaves our narrator's inner thoughts and feelings to be imagined, at least so far.

Social Commentary

Submitted by Susannah E. Rudel on Wednesday, 9/23/2009, at 9:18 PM

Thus far in my reading of The House of the Dead I have been struck by Dostoevsky’s comments on society.   Aleksandr notes that he experiences his first contact with common people during his first month at the prison.  The fact that it takes being sent to prison for Aleksandr, a member of the nobility, to encounter people of the lower class exemplifies the disparity and distance between classes within Russian society.   Whereas in the rest of Russia social classes are separated, within the confines of the prison, men of all backgrounds live together and in the same conditions.  Even within the prison, there are still differences between men of different classes, in that men of the nobility are able to afford better food, and are often disliked by the common convicts.

Within his diary Aleksandr also notes that some Russian men prefer prison to freedom, some even committing crimes with the motivation of being sent to prison; “And there are still others who commit crimes solely in order that they may be sent to prison and there escape from the infinitely more prison-like existence they led as free men.”   How horrible must a life of poverty and serfdom be to drive a man to prefer imprisonment to freedom, or at least more freedom than is had within a labor camp?  Knowing that The House of the Dead is reflective of Dostoevsky’s own experience in a prison labor camp, it becomes clear how encountering people happier in prison than in the free world could influence Dostoevsky’s writing on the contemporary issues of the time.

This is unrelated, but I am also intrigued by the narrator’s tendency to introduce a character in passing, by only mentioning his defining characteristic, such as Isay Fomich, the Jew who sells jewelry.  He then elaborates on the character later on, repeating the characteristic already mentioned and describing him in more detail.  Although repetitive, this method seems useful for remembering characters and their connections to other aspects of Aleksandr’s story.

the Siberian influence

Submitted by Corina Leu on Wednesday, 9/23/2009, at 6:14 PM

The more I read The House of the Dead, the more I feel like this Siberian experience truly shaped Dostoevsky into the great writer we now know. It is without a doubt that it made him more compassionate towards his fellow human being, and that it gave him more than enough material to work with for the rest of his life. In this narrative, the narrator's voice doesn't berate his characters in the same way he used to. In The Double, Golyadkin is castigated by society and mocked by the narrator. The narrator makes it clear to everyone that he holds himself above the characters of the novel. But in The House of the Dead, all of this previous mockery and deceit (hidden by narrator's tone and overall presentation and style) is no longer applied. It is as if over that course of four years in prison, Doestoevsky completely erased his pre-prison style and replaced it with a style that is darker, more complex and ultimately more appealing to everyone. 

This style also reminded me of the style of other writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Dostoevsky no doubt had an influence on future generations of writers who shared similar experiences in Siberia in spite of the passage of time. 

Freedom and the City

Submitted by Jeffrey A. Tucker on Tuesday, 9/22/2009, at 4:06 AM

Golyadkin's torment in The Double stems from his endless fears and preoccupations with the opinions of others. It is only rarely that he actually faces people's judgments, but he abundantly fills in his consciousness the rest of the time with the voice of external criticism. As Bakhtin points out, he "only lives by his reflection in another," in spite of his many claims to independence and not caring what others think.

The reader almost never sees Golyadkin free of his tormenting inner dialog, partly because the very narration of the novel, in Bakhtin's reading, is indistinguishable from another voicing of Golyadkin's consciousness. His life, as shared by the narration, is defined by his unnerving interactions with other people, or his fear thereof (such as his racing heartbeat on the stairs to other peoples' homes). However, the narration occasionally hints that it must omit parts of Golyadkin's life, at all those spans like on p. 118 where he "came to by the Semyonovsky Bridge." Typically in these spans of time, Golyadkin is running, often through inclement weather, across St. Petersburg--either deserted or in impersonal, equally anonymous crowds. These moments are so unlike his normal, anguished state of consciousness that the narrator does not even deem him conscious, always saying he "comes to" at their conclusion, as if he had fainted.

For Golyadkin, interactions with people--what to say, how to present himself, who to talk to--are puzzles, often terrifying or stupefying. The one type of action where he does freely, and repeatedly, is to traverse St. Petersburg's open, anonymous spaces. There he can at least pretend to be an independent, decisive person, and when he does he momentarily escapes his demons. The difficulty for someone like Golyadkin is that the essence of city life is in its dense clustering of people, so opportunities for free motion and anonymity are terribly rare.

the pathetic hero

Submitted by Daeyeong Kim on Tuesday, 9/22/2009, at 2:57 AM

            Like Gogol’s treatment of Akaky in The Overcoat, Dostoevsky treats Golyadkin with cruel, absurd to the point of tragicomic descriptions. Like Akaky, Golyadkin is a clerk in the government. Golyadkin Sr. in an effort to comfort himself, dismisses his double as “a clerk just like anyone else … he’s a clerk,” an ironic description that certainly applies to Golyadkin Sr. as well. A bit further along, Golyadkin Sr. during his evening with his counterpart, again, ironically observes that “he seemed to simple, so completely without malice or artifice, so pathetic and insignificant.” Dostoevsky takes full advantage of the double as a literary device and provides funny (and cruel?) commentary on Golyadkin Sr.  through Golyadkin Sr. himself.

            The narrator’s likening Golyadkin to a boot-rag caught my eye because it seemed similar to Gogol’s use of physical details to describe Akaky, except in a psychological sense. If anyone had “wanted—had suddenly felt a desire to turn Mr. Golyadkin into a boot-rag, they could have done so with impunity, encountering no resistance—Mr. Golyadkin had occasionally sensed that himself—and a bootrag there would have been, and not a Golyadkin” and the passage goes on. What makes Dostoevsky’s treatment of Golyadkin an “absurd” tragicomedy is the fact that Golyadkin himself recognizes his pathetic character. I guess being described as a boot-rag should be sufficiently insulting, but to make it worse, Golyadkin is “no ordinary one; this boot-rag would have had pride, would have been alive and had feelings; pride and feelings might have remained concealed deep in its filthy folds and been unable to speak for themselves, but all the same they would have been there.” The narrator’s evaluation of Golyadkin’s character is immediately confirmed in the opening lines of the next chapter, where he states that Golyadkin, despite everything being against him, “was still on his feet and unbeaten. He was ready to do battle.” And it’s these kinds of descriptions that normally ought to elicit pity, instead elicit little to no sympathy just because it’s just so absurd. When Dostoevsky repeatedly pits even Nature against Golyadkin, it’s then one understands that this is another characteristic portrait of the Russian clerk as the pathetic hero.

            There’s also the striking similarity between Akaky’s meeting with VIP (where he stutters and faints) and Golyadkin’s with his Excellency. “Who are you?” Golyadkin stutters and responds that he’s a titular counselor and then tries to articulate himself but fails miserably. Towards the end of Akaky’s encounter, the VIP is enraged and asks Akaky if he knows who he’s talking to, etc. Likewise, Golyadkin Sr is questioned (although by his double), “may I ask if you know in whose presence you are thus expressing yourself, before whom you are standing, and in whose study you are?”. The parallels are striking and further confirms Golyadkin as the pathetic titular counselor. 

striving for sincerity

Submitted by Genelle L. Diaz-Silveira on Tuesday, 9/22/2009, at 1:30 AM

One of the primary problems I had with understanding "The Double" was that it was unclear to me whether or not Golyadkin's "other" actually existed. The story is narrated by an external observer who seems to truly perceive the "other's" presence. But when Golyadkin reaches into his pocket to procure the letter from Klara Olsufyevna, he finds instead a bottle of pills. Immediately the reader travels back to the opening scene where Golyadkin is appealing to his doctor for help. Reconciling this with the fact that all the other characters seemed to actually interact with Golyadkin Jr. was difficult. But perhaps the existence of the double is irrelevant. After having read Bakhtin, this seemed incredibly apparent. Bakhtin's argument for double voicedness or double consciousness works especially well in "The Double." Golyadkin is a character who is constantly touting his ideologies, continuously espousing and rejecting certain beliefs. But, as Bakhtin suggests, every word he speaks undermines the words spoken before it. All of his dialogue is circular, "I am a little man, you know that yourself," and then immediately afterward, "But fortunately I have no regrets about being a little man...I'm even proud of being a little man and not a big one." He says he washes his hands of thoughts of doing harm to his enemies but then asks the doctor how he would take revenge on his own enemies- Golyadkin's enemies being those whose perception of him he both lambastes and caters to. He tells everyone that he doesn't like to beat around the bush yet he says nothing straightforward. He is at once bold and cowardly; he stomps about resolutely and within a matter of seconds he is seen trembling with fear and cowering in a corner. He rallies behind a banner of sincerity, praising it as one of his truest virtues but cannot help mediate his behavior according to other people's thoughts, and so he utters countless disclaimers and constant rejoinders to anticipated criticisms (again, as Bakhtin argues). "This is a personal matter, not an official one," he repeats. This both serves to support and undermine his beliefs. It supports them because people do in fact have these criticisms of him and view his sincere acts unfavorably. It undermines them because while he embraces candidness and sincerity, his last word becomes a highly adulterated version of his first, catering to social norms and standards that he believes his audience adheres to. He wants to be sincere but is loathe to fully admit it because he fears he might be ridiculed. This double consciousness results in Golyadkin's downfall because his ideas occupy two extremes of the spectrum. It seems, however, that everyone in the city is operating under a less extreme version of this consciousness.

Liminality of the Character

Submitted by Muddasir M. Ayaz on Tuesday, 9/22/2009, at 12:52 AM

I'm not sure if this is correct, but I got the impression that the story marks Goldyakin's foray into insanity. The hyperconsciousness of the narrative and constant self-absorption and focus on his appearance throughout the story give the impression that we cannot take things as they are told, but rather have to infer what is going on.  In the beginning of the story, we are told of Mr. Goldakin's entrance at a dinner-party where he was not expected, and his subsequent visit to the doctor. His refusal to take medication leads the reader to further question his understanding of the world. It almost seems like the staircase that is described is a liminal space between the realm of the sane and the inane.  The vacillation between life and death also occur throughout the story, veering more closely to death as the story progresses. While this is evident in the imagery, it is particularly the case when the narrator remarks that Goldyakin was in a state in between life and death, and later when he remarks that the protagonist was like the walking dead. I was wondering, though, how exactly does the story end? Is he institutionalized, and is he actually insane, or does his double actually exist? Furthermore, what is the time course that dominates the story? At the beginning, it seems clearly explained, but as the story progresses, it seems that time itself is lost in Goldyakin's struggle for control.

the necessity of an examination of structure

Submitted by Samuel T. Aden on Monday, 9/21/2009, at 7:10 PM

With The Double we are introduced to yet another narrative structure. We have Gogol's first-person 'gossip-esque' narrator in the Overcoat, Poor Folk's exclusive use of letters, and now the more common first-person narrative in The Double. The use of these techniques is the sole basis on which the reader may begin to connect with the author's work. It seems menial and unnecessary but the structure with which the author decides to write their story is pivotal when determining the intentions of the author. The literary world that the reader is revealed to is wholly (structurally) effected by what the author decides to include. What would be important to note is that there is no 'real' time or space that the author is referencing when composing fiction. The use of real geographic locations (Petersburg) or real historical contexts (poverty, character occupations/statuses) carries the same significance as the use of any other literary device (a character's name meaning shoe). The "accuracy" of events only gains legitimacy insofar as it applies to the literary time, space, culture...etc that the author deems relevant. For instance, the events that transpire in between the letters composed by the fictional characters in Poor Folk do not exist as anything any more specific than what may be relevant to the story itself.

Despite the contextual restrictions of fiction, it is precisely the ability for events and people to exist in this indeterminate ephemeral literary reality that gives whatever interpretive efforts we make difficult, worthwhile, and even simply applicable. As fiction is what is not real realized, a reader that approaches fiction might do so by examining what the author realizes from their outset at a metaphysical zero, where they stop, and how they go about doing so. In Poor Folk we as readers have no idea what most of the time and space of the characters consist of besides what is referenced in the letters (and what is in the brief narrative about Vs childhood). This may be contrasted to a methodology utilized by, for example, Tolstoy or Homer when they try to map out the entirety of an EVENT. This is not to say that Dostoevsky does not also relay the intricacies of a certain history or context with pages and pages of detail, but instead he does so more discernably on a level where the goal is more so to do justice to the closed entirety of the story as a whole, rather than to the character or event itself. Every shred of text is somehow working to further develop a conflict that persists throughout the text and makes the individual detail relevant to the story as a whole (rather than giving extraneous information regarding a certain character that is perhaps a major characterisitc of the individual, but irrelevant to the story).

So as a result you are left with an account of events that did not happen, with characters that half-exist, and have fundamentally no bearing on the 'real' state of affairs in the reader's (in real) life. What gives Dostoevsky's writing any importance is then the role of the author himself. The rationale he developed to simultaneously legitimize and create a work of fiction might therefore be revealed not just in his choices regarding content, but also the structural layout of the story.