The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 2: Chapter 3 Summary

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Entering the hospital was the first time that Aleksandr really took in any information about the flogged men, which, he says, is the reason why he is talking about them now. He talks about the protocol for the floggings, in which particularly large numbers of strokes were divided into two or three segments to prevent the flogged man’s death by the punishment. In between these segments, the men are sent into the hospital to heal. With the exception of Orlov, whom Aleksandr has already described, they do not really talk to the others there. A curious Aleksandr inquires about how the floggings feel, but he is not satisfied with the answers. Over time, he learns that a flogging with the birch is much more deadly than a flogging with sticks, which allows for a sentence of more strokes.

The people who administer the floggings, Aleksandr notes, acquire a taste for tyranny. To give one person the power to corporally punish another is fundamentally destructive to society. He discusses the difference between those who become executioners—which includes those who do the flogging—voluntarily and involuntarily. His observation is that, oddly, the men tend to respect the voluntary ones more, while they loathe and fear the ones who become executioners involuntarily. This is because the involuntary ones learn flogging as a craft, which they view coldly, while the voluntary ones are emotionally involved. Aleksandr explains the financial bargains that the executioners drive with those to be punished, haggling for bribes to make their floggings less severe.

Aleksandr then describes the food in the hospital. Depending on what they are being treated for, the patients are assigned different rations. However, they trade and sell these rations freely. Dinner is one of the few interesting times of the day. Other than that, life in the hospital is monotonous.

Another source of variety is new men being brought in, particularly those who are being treated for madness. Though they are at first a matter of interest, the madmen quickly become unbearable to live with. Aleksandr relates the stories of three madmen whom he came to know, describing the romantic delusions of one man in detail.

The physical treatments administered in the hospital are brutal and take a toll on the men’s bodies. As elsewhere in prison life, the men distract themselves by telling stories and quarreling with one another. A man named Shapkin tells the story of his arrest.

In spite of the tedium of the hospital, Aleksandr says, he went there repeatedly during his time in the prison. Sometimes, he even went just to get some rest. Nighttime there, however, was almost unbearable, being both tedious and frightening at the same time.

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