The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 1: Chapter 8 Summary

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In the prison, Aleksandr explains, there are few men who are actually desperate. There are murderers, but the nature of their crimes makes it difficult to see them as inhuman. Some, for example, are humble serfs until they break under the conditions of their poverty and attack their oppressors. Yet then these same men, having become murderers, begin to kill without hesitation or remorse. They believe they are desperate, but when threatened with death, they shrink. A different type of murderer, also present, is he who boasts about what he has done. However, Aleksandr implies, this man is not desperate either, but making the best of his situation through clever insolence.

One of the convicts, Luka, may actually be a desperate man. Aleksandr overhears the story of his crime, which Luka tells to his neighbor in the barracks. The man casually interweaves his tale with conversation about the sewing they are doing. He relates how he revenged himself on an arrogant officer who claimed to be equal to the tsar and to God, which Luka took as unbearable pride.

Such pride, Aleksandr says, is characteristic of officers who have risen from the lower ranks to have power over others. For Aleksandr, this conversation gives him occasion to reflect on how the men expect their officers to behave: neither disdainful nor familiar, but dignified and fair.

Luka describes his punishment for the murder, a flogging so severe that it was surprising he did not die. Oddly, Aleksandr reflects, no one is actually afraid of Luka, even though they know he has murdered six people.

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Part 1: Chapter 7 Summary


Part 1: Chapter 9 Summary