Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Dostoevski may be described as a fantastic realist. He constantly blurs the distinction between the real world and the dream world, the world of the sane and the insane. Here he achieves this effect through his use of the first-person narrator, Ivan Ivanovich, who is an alienated outsider. Dostoevski creates a feeling of emotional tension by writing in a staccato-type style, employing short syntactical units in rapid succession. When Ivan’s friends suspect that he may be going insane, they recognize that a change has also occurred in Ivan’s style of writing. One friend remarks: “Your style is changing . . . it’s choppy. You chop and chop—you interpolate a clause, and then another clause within it, and then you add still something else in parenthesis, and then you start chopping and chopping again.” This quotation describes accurately the style of those parts of the story in which the reader encounters Ivan’s narrative voice. The reader is presented with Ivan’s seemingly random thoughts in rapid succession—a device that anticipates the use of stream of consciousness in modern fiction.

By using a first-person narrator, Dostoevski draws the reader into a more personal relationship with the main protagonist and facilitates the reader’s identification with the protagonist’s thoughts, questions, doubts, and fantasies. It is through Ivan’s reflections that Dostoevski raises the question of the standards by which society distinguishes the...

(The entire section is 446 words.)