(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 873 words.)