The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1: Chapter 7 Summary

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Over time, Aleksandr becomes accustomed to life in the prison, including the odd feeling of having half of his head shaved. This prison requirement became the province of a man called “the major,” to the indignation of the prison official of that rank.

Like the others in the prison, Aleksandr constantly dreams of freedom, which keeps him sane. Even the men who live years of their lives chained to a wall have hope of a greater freedom, though they will stay within the prison forever. As for Aleksandr, he decides that the work will be his salvation, keeping him strong for the time when he is released. In detail, he describes the tasks he enjoys: pounding alabaster into powder, turning the wheel of a lathe used to make furniture, and shoveling the heavy snow.

As days pass in the prison, Aleksandr comes to know more people, including a man named Petrov. Though Aleksandr never discovers what Petrov actually wants of him, he finds it entertaining to talk to him. Petrov is odd because he is constantly on the move, giving the sense that he is going somewhere beyond the prison, even though he is just as trapped as Aleksandr. When they talk, Petrov asks Aleksandr factual questions about the world, learning from the nobleman’s knowledge. But he never stays to talk for long, always moving on to something else.

Petrov, Aleksandr observes, has a violent streak, though he never shows it toward Aleksandr. The worst he does to the nobleman is steal from him. Yet he bears the scolding he receives for that as if he deserved it, tolerantly waiting until Aleksandr is done. It is as if the stealing is something he cannot help, though he recognizes it is wrong. Aleksandr reflects that he does not think Petrov will come to a good end but acknowledges he may be wrong, as who can know another’s fate?

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Part 1: Chapter 6 Summary

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Part 1: Chapter 8 Summary