The Double, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is a twisted story. It’s largely incomprehensible. The line between reality and imaginary is blurred. It’s awfully confusing and uncomfortable. Much like “The Joker” movie was uncomfortable, because it portrayed the Joker’s divorce from reality, this book is similarly uncomfortable. Some sections are true, whereas other sections are imaginary. As the reader, I can’t determine which are which, and I think this is what makes the book well-written. I say it is a well-written book, because it evokes feelings of discomfort and confusion. Which I think are exactly the feelings that Dostoevsky wanted the reader to experience. I think the reader is supposed to feel uneasiness as Mr. Golyadkin’s personalities split, and he becomes increasingly crazed. I think there are many similarities between the experience of reading “The Double” and watching “The Joker.” Like I couldn’t watch “The Joker” repeatedly, I also could not read this book repeatedly. It is simply too twisted. I’m thankful that I have a healthy mind and not plagued by mental illness like Mr. Golyadkin. I learned a new word that accurately describes the main character of this story: addlepated. The premise of this story is to explore Mr. Golyadkin’s personality split between his senior and his junior. The senior perceives a doppelganger of himself, and throughout the story, their relationship evolves up to the point where the line between imaginary and reality is blurred, both for the reader and the hero. Mr. Golyadkin loses his sanity, and at the end of the story he is admitted to a clinic. Senior is usurped by junior. Just like Esau is usurped by Jacob.
We are introduced to Petrushka, Mr. Golyadkin’s servant, and Andrey Filippovich, the head of office at Mr. Golyadkin’s workplace. In the opening chapter, “our hero” takes a carriage ride, sees Andrey Filippovich, and he does not know how to respond. Should he pretend not see his superior, bow, avoid his eyes, or hide? This is the first scene where we observe a distressed and socially awkward man. At the end of this chapter, Mr. Golyadkin decides to visit his doctor, Krestan Ivanovich.
Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin’s conversation with the doctor reveals his extraordinary awkwardness. I was struck most bluntly by the number of times that he used the doctor’s name, “Krestan Ivanovich,” during their conversation. He would insert the doctor’s name at awkward intervals, mid-sentence. At the end of the chapter, Mr. Golyadkin declares that the doctor is as “silly as a post.” Also, we know that Mr. Golyadkin is unusual, because the doctor tells him that the solution to his problems is to socialize, drink alcohol, party, seek entertainment, and find friendships. These are not the recommendations for healing a common cold. Mr. Golyadkin’s illness is more serious.
The reason that Mr. Golyadkin rented a carriage was to attend a dinner party at Olsufy Ivanovich’s residence. However, when our hero arrived at the party, he was denied admittance. The security guard, Gerasimich, refused to admit Petrovich Golyadkin. The hero was befuddled, but after his blunder, he returned to the carriage and went to get dinner alone at a restaurant. Obviously, the main character is unsettling and makes other people uncomfortable, to the point that he is not allowed to attend a social dinner party.
This chapter demonstrates the epitome of Mr. Golyadkin’s clumsiness and disconnect from civilized society. After being denied entrance to the dinner party the first time, he returns to Izmailovsky Bridge, where Olsufy Ivanovich is hosting the party, and hides near some trash behind the residency. He sits for three hours and observes the jocularity, playful dancing, effervescence, and joy of the party happening inside. The sumptuous dinner party is being hosted to celebrate the birthday of Klara Olsufyevna. The reason that Mr. Golyadkin hired a carriage and purchased perfumes that day was so that he could attend the party and impress Klara. After hiding for several hours and observing the party, Yakov enters the bustling party through the back door. Immediately, he is embarrassed by stepping on a woman’s dress and tearing it. Then, he stumbles forward to speak with Klara but accomplishes only to fumble his words. His goal is to dance with the pretty lady, but in reality he is completely humiliated. At the end of this chapter, Mr. Golyadkin is shamefully escorted from the party by the butler.
Mr. Golyadkin’s first sighting of his doppelganger! After the embarrassment of the dinner party, Yakov is walking home in the snow when he spots a familiar person. Mr. Golyadkin pursues the stranger to his home, the stranger enters his residence, and Mr. Golyadkin recognizes the stranger as himself. Mr. Golyadkin sees his doppelganger.
The next morning, Mr. Golyadkin wonders why Petrushka does not mention last night’s strange visitor. Then, he goes into the office and has a conversation with Anton Antonvich. He becomes convinced that the stranger from last night was not real, and this puts Mr. Golyadkin in a pleasant mood. However, while walking home from work, the Mr. Golyadkin-look-alike starts walking alongside him. Mr. Golyadkin wishes that this stranger would go away, and he is not sure what to make of the situation.
When he gets home, Petrushka does not seem to notice the doppelganger, and Mr. Golyadkin wonders why everybody is acting so strangely. Mr. Golyadkin senior (the protagonist) and Mr. Golyadkin junior (the doppelganger) have an extended conversation over a meal and drinks. In this part of the story, the doppelganger seems real, not an imaginary figure. This makes us wonder what is happening inside Mr. Golyadkin’s mind to create such a scene.
Mr. Golyadkin goes into the office to present some important papers to his superior officer. Before entering the office, Golyadkin junior approaches Golyadkin senior, tears the papers from his hands and uses a penknife to blot out some ink spots. Junior physically usurps the senior. After the meeting, Golyadkin chases his junior around the office. It’s all very confusing and doesn’t make much sense. I suppose this is an illustration of what’s happening inside a person’s mind who is plagued with this type of mental illness. The surrounding world does not make sense, the line between reality and imaginary is blurred, and ambient activities are contorted. It’s uncomfortable to read; I cannot imagine living like that.
In this scene, Mr. Golyadkin eats a pie at the restaurant near the location of the humiliating dinner party. Although he thinks that he ate just a single pie, he receives a bill for eleven pies. He’s in an outrage until he spots Mr. Golyadkin junior in the doorway, and he realizes that he has been impersonated. He pays for the eleven pies, and is so outraged at the imposter that he decides to write a letter. In his letter, he says that junior has transgressed every rule imposed by civilized society, and he demands an explanation. He asks his servant, Petrushka, to deliver the letter to Mr. Golyadkin. The scene that follows is confusing. Petruska gets drunk, may or may not have delivered the letter, Mr. Golyadkin gets angry, and then he notices a letter from Mr. Vakhrameyev. I do not understand the purpose of the letter, nor do I care to re-read the passage for additional understanding.
Mr. Golyadkin has a dream that his doubles are running around the town, and that he needs to go collect them. After this dream, he decides that he must do something about his junior. At the office, Mr. Golyadkin sees his junior with his Excellency, and sees him socializing with the clerks. Mr. Golyadkin decides that he must explain the situation to his Excellency. When the carriage door opens to reveal Mr. Golyadkin junior and his Excellency together, Mr. Golyadkin senior chases the junior.
Senior catches junior, and they enter a coffee-shop to talk with one another. I can only imagine how this conversation appeared to the cashier and other customers. Mr. Golyadkin must have appeared as a lunatic. Then, senior chases junior outside, into a cab, and through the snow. Mr. Golyadkin finds himself pushing past lots and lots of people and not caring about his clumsiness. Then he remembers the letter in his pocket. How did the letter get there? I don’t know. So many unanswered questions. Anyway, the letter is supposedly signed by Klara, and she says, “I shall throw myself into the protection of your arms.” Odd. Mr. Golyadkin is confused and shaken. He finds the bottle of pills prescribed to him by the doctor, Krestan Ivanovich. Finally, he goes home and finds that his servant, Petrushka, is packing his belongings to leave.
This chapter starts with Mr. Golyadkin profusely thanking his servant for all his faithful service. Then, he hails a carriage and proceeds to his Excellency’s flat. At the door, he sees that Mr. Golyadkin junior is attending to his Excellency. Senior tries to explain to his Excellency that junior is an imposter. The next thing that Mr. Golyadkin knows, he is being escorted out of his Excellency’s house, and junior is skipping alongside him. He feels crushed and resolves to go to Izmailovsky Bridge.
Last chapter of this horrid book. Mr. Golyadkin takes a cab to Izmailovsky Bridge, the housing establishment of Olsufy Ivanovich’s flat, and waits in the yard for a signal from Klara. He searches his pocket for the letter to ensure that he has the correct day, but he cannot find the letter. When he looks into the window of the flat, he sees a crowd of people, and they are all looking at him. They are looking directly at him and motioning for him to come inside. Inside the building, Mr. Golyadkin is escorted through crowds of people. There are bright lights and lots of eyes. Junior comes alongside senior and they hold hands, walking together through the crowds. Mr. Golyadkin is escorted to the front door, where he is told that the doctor, Krestan Ivanovich, is waiting for him. Next, he enters a waiting carriage, and he is immediately joined by the doctor. The carriage drives away, and Mr. Golyadkin sees his double chasing the carriage in the distance, waving goodbye. The next thing that our hero sees is a completely different side of Krestan Ivanovich. The doctor appears terrible and stern. It can be concluded that Mr. Golyadkin is admitted to a madhouse.