Last Updated on February 1, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 985
The Duality of Man
In many respects, the two Golyadkins are foils of each other. Where Golyadkin Sr. struggles with antisocial tendencies, finds forming relationships difficult, and feels uncertain about his position within his department, Golyadkin Jr. is a charismatic and charming man with an easygoing manner, which helps him build strong relationships with peers and superiors alike. The original Golyadkin is concerned with authenticity and honesty, constantly rejecting the idea of wearing a social mask to appease others. He presents himself exactly as he is, which many find grating. Golyadkin Sr. does not attempt to disguise his verbal tics, odd habits, or seemingly random monologues, and his oddities turn people away. As such, it is simple for Golyadkin Jr., who handily excels in every respect that Golyadkin Sr. fails, to turn their coworkers against his namesake; even though the original Golyadkin has seniority, the double is willing to play the game and wear the mask necessary to succeed.
Moreover, their worldviews differ dramatically. Golyadkin Sr. sees himself as a virtuous man who, through no fault of his own, struggles to befriend his coworkers and gain the respect of his servant. He speaks earnestly and feels that his uninhibited honesty should earn him the success and happiness he desires. When Golyadkin Sr. first speaks to Christian Ivanovich and discusses the day he propositioned Clara, he downplays his actions; through this brief description, readers understand that his entitled and socially-unaware actions led to his ostracization. Golyadkin Sr. cannot see the truth of the matter and instead believes himself the victim of a conspiracy.
His double, however, understands the rules by which anyone wishing to excel in the social sphere must abide. Golyadkin Jr. caters to expectation and engages in the absent-minded small talk his namesake abhors. These dramatically different perspectives—one caught forever in a blind victim complex and the other willing to sacrifice all semblance of authenticity—ultimately lead one Golyadkin to the asylum and the other to professional success. The two men diverge in many ways, but as they navigate their shared environment, their differences meld into a united portrait of man’s duality. In every respect, they are oppositional. In this way, their differences indicate the innate conflict hidden in all men, which plays the moral against the immoral and contrasts personal desires with social expectations.
The Uncertainty of Reality
The Double's plot hinges on the existence of the protagonist's malevolent doppelganger. Golyadkin Sr., an awkward and quietly unhappy bureaucrat living in St. Petersburg encounters himself while out walking one night. This external self (soon known as Golyadkin Jr.) consumes his life and drives him into a mental asylum. The narrative relies on this externalized version of Golyadkin but intentionally refuses to detail the specific nature of this figure. As such, readers must question whether the nefarious Golyadkin Jr. is a real person who, by some supernatural or otherworldly means, perfectly resembles Golyadkin Sr., or if he is simply a figment of the increasingly erratic man’s imagination, created as a veil behind which Golyadkin Sr. might hide from his faults and failures.
Given Golyadkin Jr.’s devilish nature, it is more likely that—as the novel’s psychological nature suggests—the double is a hallucination. His vendetta against Golyadkin Sr., cruel treatment of his pathetic namesake, and unprecedented success in every avenue in which the original Golyadkin struggles align too well to be happenstance. Indeed, it is likely that Golyadkin Jr. is a product of Golyadkin Sr.’s mind, constructed to be the perfect villain. The truth, however, is elusive. Dostoevsky does not give readers a clear answer and leaves the double’s existence open to interpretation. As such, one of the novel’s predominant throughlines is the subjectivity of reality, particularly as it is filtered through Golyadkin’s ever-worsening mind. Whether or not Golyadkin Jr. is real or imagined, his presence plagues his namesake’s every thought; the impact of his presence, physical or otherwise, is far more important than its truth.
Internal Dissatisfaction and External Fault
Much of the novel concerns the troubled protagonist’s disillusionment with life and others. He feels that he is deprived of the luxury, companionship, and respect that those around him receive, and his anger and anxiety at this deprivation are responsible, in part, for fueling his manic break from reality. Golyadkin Sr. struggles in polite conversation. He stutters, says the wrong things, and monologues on awkward, disinteresting subjects. His speech falters and breaks, and he is easily influenced by others. Moreover, he feels that his lack of eloquence means that his rejections are simply the fault of his tongue; it is because he cannot adequately convey his feelings that his peers misunderstand them.
Golyadkin Sr. is ashamed of many things, most of which extend beyond his failure as a public speaker. He is dissatisfied with nearly every aspect of his life. His servant is sullen, coworkers condescending, and superiors distant; the woman he loves does not love him; he does not earn enough and does not get the respect he deserves. The novel is predominantly concerned with the sites of Golyadkin Sr.’s dissatisfaction because these locations mark the beginning of his break from reality. When he thinks of these tokens of unhappiness, Golyadkin Sr.’s perspective splinters.
At once, the failures of his personal life are his fault—as an awkward conversationalist and poor communicator—but also the fault of others—who intentionally overlook and take advantage of him. His cognitive dissonance divides him between internal dissatisfaction and external fault; everything wrong in his life is the product of his failings but also the result of an outside scheme dedicated to ruining his life. At once, Golyadkin Sr. is deeply self-aware and incredibly blind to reality. Although he understands his complicity in his unhappiness, he prefers to cope with his dissatisfaction by blaming others and victimizing himself, which ultimately leads him to insanity.