The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 2: Chapter 2 Summary

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Aleksandr explains the relationship between the common people of Russia and doctors. It may seem paradoxical, he says, that the common people do not trust medicine and the medical system, yet they respect the doctors themselves. This is because they understand that most of the doctors are kind and noble.

In this hospital, the young intern is particularly kind and shy, hesitant ever to tell a man that he is not really sick or that he is recovered and needs to leave. By contrast, the senior doctor is more direct and no-nonsense yet still friendly in the way he speaks to the men. Aleksandr mentions the doctors’ tolerance of a man who faked an eye infection for some time, hoping to put off the flogging to which he had been sentenced.

Speaking of this man leads Aleksandr to reflect on flogging in the prison. He relates a conversation he had with a fellow prisoner who claimed to have survived a beating of four thousand strokes because he had been beaten all his life, which made him more resilient. Surprisingly, Aleksandr says, the men tend to take this punishment with good humor, even though they never feel they deserve it. They simply understand that it is in the nature of authority figures to punish them for what those authorities see as crimes. Telling the reader what others have told him, Aleksandr recounts at length the cruelties of a lieutenant named Zherebyatnikov, who liked to play tricks on the men before beating them. By contrast, he relates, another lieutenant named Smekalov was so friendly that, even though he also played a trick on them and sometimes had them beaten cruelly, the men developed a kind of affection for him.

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Part 2: Chapter 3 Summary