The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1: Chapter 10 Summary

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Christmas arrives. It is one of only three days in the year on which the men may not legally be sent out to work. The men take celebrating Christmas very seriously. Even those who are sparing of their money the rest of year save it up to buy special food on Christmas. Reverence is the mood in the prison.

Aleksandr describes Akim Akimych’s solemn way of celebrating the holiday. The latter believes it must be observed in a very specific manner so that he has done his duty. He eats the same meal every year, carefully saves a new outfit for the day and makes sure he is tidy, and goes to bed with a sense of peace.

In contrast to the rest of the year, on Christmas the men treat each other in an almost friendly manner. They greet each other enthusiastically and chat with fellow convicts they do not usually talk to. When charity food arrives at the prison, the men trust those who are dividing it and do not fight over their portions.

A priest comes to lead a service in the military barracks. After the service, the men eat their special holiday food. Watching the Jewish Isay Fomich and the Muslim mountain tribesmen, Aleksandr notes that they pointedly do not observe the day. The men play cards and idle without much fear of being caught by the prison officers. Others sing a variety of songs, some of which Aleksandr writes down parts of.

As the night wears on, the men grow sad, especially those who have been drinking heavily. Some argue too. Aleksandr relates at length an argument between two men, one of whom believes that the other owes him money. Another pair, friends for the day, have a quarrel that ends in one punching the other. A man named Varlamov comes into the barracks and tells a tale of his past, accompanied by a man named Bulkin who continually shouts that Varlamov is lying. Varlamov ignores Bulkin until he is done with his tale, at which point the two leave the barracks together. The day ends with the men wearily aware that they must work again tomorrow.

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Part 1: Chapter 9 Summary

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Part 1: Chapter 11 Summary