The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 2: Chapter 4 Summary

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Late at night, Aleksandr wakes to the sound of an officer checking to make sure all the convicts are still present in the hospital ward. After the man leaves, he notices the sound of two men talking. They are Cherevin and Shishkov. The latter is telling a story, with the other periodically interjecting to show that he is listening. Shishkov, Aleksandr says, is a cowardly man whom the other prisoners hold in contempt.

Aleksandr has some difficulty understanding at first but picks up the story as Shishkov is describing a rich man, Ankudim, in the community he used to live in.

This is the story Shishkov told: Ankudim had a daughter named Akulka. Filka, the son of Ankudim’s former business partner, asked him for money and claimed that he had slept with Akulka. At this time, Shishkov and Filka were both in the habit of being drunk all the time and abusing women. Filka told extensive lies about Akulka behaving promiscuously. After hearing all these tales, the whole town began to shame her, including Shishkov. Shishkov’s mother then persuaded him to marry Akulka, because her family would pay him to do so. Shishkov got drunk and allowed himself to be married to her. When Akulka and Shishkov were alone together after the wedding, he discovered that the rumors about Akulka were false. Later, he was angry that they let him marry Akulka while he was drunk, and he began to beat Akulka regularly. When Filka left the town to serve in the military, he asked Akulka to forgive him, which she did. In revenge, Shiskov took Akulka to the woods and murdered her.

Cherevin tells Shiskov that he behaved foolishly. Beating one’s wife, he says, is justified. He implies, however, that murdering her goes too far.

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Part 2: Chapter 5 Summary