Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315
The Double by Dostoevsky examines the psychological decline of the government clerk Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin. He finds out not only that he has a double but that his double is taking over his life. The double, who becomes known in the story as Golyadkin, Jr., is everything Golyadkin, Sr. is not: confident, charming, and sociable.
From the beginning of the story, Golyadkin, Sr. is presented as an unstable person.
Then, suddenly recalling how taken aback he had been, our hero flushed as hot as fire, frowned, and cast a terrible defiant glance at the front corner of the carriage, a glance calculated to reduce all his foes to ashes.
He visits his doctor to discuss his problems. Worried, the doctor prescribes him
a change of habits... Well, amusements, and visits to friends and acquaintances; also, no hostility to the bottle; likewise, cheerful company.
With the doctor's advice in mind, Golyadkin, Sr. decides to go, uninvited, to the birthday party of his boss's daughter. He hopes to make a good impression and stop what he thinks is negative gossip about him, but he instead gets thrown out after trying to dance with the boss's beautiful daughter, Klara Olsufyevna.
From there, things go from bad to worse. On his way home, he meets his double. Initially, they get on well, but their relationship quickly declines. Golyadkin, Sr. starts to worry that his double is taking over his life. Golyadkin, Jr. has even started working in his office.
When Golyadkin, Sr. tries to turn popular opinion against his double, superiors sack him instead. The next day Golyadkin, Sr. receives a letter from Klara Olsufyevna that says she wants to meet with him.
I shall throw myself into the protection of your arms at two o’clock in the night.
When he arrives, however, he is taken into the care of his doctor and transported to the insane asylum.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 873
The Double centers on the mental disintegration of Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, Sr., the assistant to the chief clerk in a government office in St. Petersburg. The first four chapters lead up to his breakdown. In chapter 2, a visit to his German doctor, Krestyan Ivanovich Rutenspitz, reveals the protagonist’s highly agitated state of mind. He has enemies, he says, who are trying to destroy him and he complains that a younger colleague of his, the nephew of his superior, Andrey Filippovich, has been awarded the promotion that he, Golyadkin, Sr., had been anticipating. His chances of a successful romance with the desirable Klara Olsufyevna have also been harmed. Soon the reader discovers that some ugly rumors have been spread about Golyadkin, Sr., to the effect that he has been involved with a disreputable German woman, Karolina Ivanovna, and that he has behaved dishonorably toward her.
Later that day, he is refused admission to Klara’s birthday party. He slips in unnoticed but clumsily draws attention to himself, tries to dance with Klara, and is escorted out. This humiliation proves to be the crucial moment in the narrative.
Fleeing down the miserable, wet November streets, attempting to escape from what he thinks is persecution, he senses someone near him. A stranger passes by, yet somehow he seems familiar, and he is dressed exactly like Golyadkin, Sr. The stranger passes by again a few minutes later. Golyadkin, Sr., recognizes him; he knows him only too well. He follows the stranger to the entrance of his own apartment and finally into his own bedroom. Trembling with horror, his hair standing on end, the protagonist realizes that he has met his double, a man exactly like him in all respects.
The next day, the double turns up at the office and secures a job as a clerk. No one but Golyadkin, Sr., takes much notice, or remarks on the strange resemblance, but Golyadkin, Sr., is in a state of continual anguish, as if he is being roasted on a fire. In the evening, he finds himself inviting his double back to his apartment for dinner and literally and figuratively is beside himself with amazement. His guest is humble and deferential as he tells his story. The double was poor and without a job, driven from his previous position by his enemies, and had sought out Golyadkin, Sr., because of their remarkable resemblance. They talk amiably and appear to become friends.
Yet Golyadkin, Sr., awakes in the morning suspicious and resentful of what he now believes to be his double’s cunning. He resolves to have nothing more to do with him. In the office the next day, Golyadkin, Jr., has changed his manner. Now aloof and self-important, he seems to have taken the real Golyadkin’s place, fawning on his superiors, while they act disdainfully toward the original Golyadkin. An unpleasant confrontation follows, and Golyadkin, Sr., fails to retain his presence of mind. He is convinced that there is a conspiracy against him and believes that he is being treated “like a rag used for wiping dirty boots.” A series of confrontations with his double always yields the same result. Golyadkin, Sr., is humiliated; his double seems to have taken over his life and outmaneuvers him when challenged.
That night, Golyadkin, Sr., dreams that he is in the midst of good company; he is witty and courteous, and everyone likes him. Then Golyadkin, Jr., appears and instantly blackens his character; the group believes the slander and turns against him, while Golyadkin, Jr., succeeds in making every-one like him. In the streets afterward, the desperate Golyadkin, Sr., finds another Golyadkin springing up at every step he takes. All the fake Golyadkins run after one another in a long chain, following the real Golyadkin so that there is no escape for him.
The next morning, he decides once more to confront his double. He plots and schemes, hoping to outwit the plans which he assumes his opposite is making, but he meets only with further insult. He complains to his superior,who confronts him with accusations about his conduct at the previous evening’s party, his behavior toward the German woman, and his slander of Golyadkin, Jr. Eventually Golyadkin, Sr., loses his job, and his servant leaves him.
The story reaches a climax when the protagonist receives a letter from Klara Olsufyevna, begging him to elope with her. The letter probably exists only in his mind. He waits for two hours outside Klara’s home, but his double discovers him and invites him inside. The center of attention, Golyadkin, Sr., is guided to Klara, who stands with her newly betrothed fiance. Her father shakes the protagonist’s hand and everyone looks at him with sympathy and curiosity. Then Krestyan Ivanovich, Golyadkin’s doctor, suddenly and unexpectedly enters the room. With all eyes on him, Golyadkin, Sr., is escorted to a waiting carriage. He finds himself traveling down an unfamiliar road, and the doctor has taken on a demonic appearance, his eyes glittering like fire. He tells Golyadkin, Sr., “You will get quarters at public expense...fire-wood, light, and service, which you don’t deserve.” Golyadkin cries out; it is a fate which he has been expecting for some time.