Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Fyodor Dostoevski was essentially a religious writer interested in spiritual and moral questions. Throughout his career he attempted to portray moral beauty in all of its perfection. Two of his major protagonists, Prince Myshkin in Idiot (1868; The Idiot, 1887) and Alyosha in Bratya Karamazovy (1879-1880; The Brothers Karamazov, 1912), have Christlike qualities. They represent Dostoevski’s attempt to portray a near-perfect, moral, compassionate human being. In contrast, the characters portrayed by Dostoevski in “Bobok” represent vice, debauchery, and pettiness. They engage in fraud, gambling, and theft. This portrait of the life of the dead reflects everything that is corrupt in an immoral, imperfect world. Dostoevski portrays moral corruption with the hope of awakening the reader’s spiritual consciousness. He does this by means of a most unlikely vehicle—namely, the allegedly insane narrator, Ivan, who retains a sense of moral right and outrage. Ivan’s first reaction to the graveyard and corpses is disgust at the smell of the decayed bodies. It becomes apparent, however, that the stench that overwhelms him is as much moral as physical. He is dismayed by the incongruity of true grief and feigned grief mixed with considerable ribaldry; such frivolity seems profoundly out of place in a cemetery. He is equally outraged to find one of the tombstones desecrated by a sandwich that someone has left on the tombstone. He throws...

(The entire section is 421 words.)