Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Dostoevski prepares for the appearance of the double with careful foreshadowing. In the first chapter, after passing his office superior, while traveling in the hired carriage, Golyadkin, Sr., is overwhelmed by confusion. He wonders whether he should pretend not to be himself, “but somebody else strikingly like me....Just...not me, not me and that’s all.” After the humiliating experience at Klara’s birthday party, the narrator comments that Golyadkin, Sr., “was killed entirely, in the full sense of the word.” He wants not only “to run away from himself, but to be obliterated, to cease to be, to turn into dust as well.”

The most notable aspect of Dostoevski’s narrative technique is his ability to blend the realistic with the fantastic. In spite of the effectiveness of the foreshadowing, the status of the double is never made completely explicit. His first emergence, on a wet foggy night, could be seen as a hallucination, existing only in the protagonist’s disordered mind. Dostoevski keeps this possibility in the foreground: After the double has spent the night at the house of Golyadkin, Sr., he appears to vanish without a trace in the morning, and the servant, Petrushka, acts as if nothing untoward has happened. Other characters are completely indifferent about the matter, apart from a casual remark or two about coincidence, and on two occasions Golyadkin, Sr., sees the double in a doorway, which he took to be a looking glass. Nevertheless, the fantastic elements are balanced by a carefully developed realism. The double has a personal history (which he explains to Golyadkin, Sr., on their first acquaintance), and an objective life which is independent of his counterpart’s own mind. Others recognize and acknowledge his existence. The balance is maintained up to the last episode: The German doctor’s transformation into a demon is purely fantastic, but his announcement of his patient’s fate is grimly realistic.