The House of the Dead

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Part 2: Chapter 7 Summary

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The original narrator, who is publishing Aleksandr Petrovich’s notes, interjects at this point. Referring back to a character Aleksandr writes about early in his notes, the nobleman who was convicted of killing his father, the original narrator rehashes what Aleksandr Petrovich said about him, including that Aleksandr did not believe the man had committed this crime. And, indeed, the narrator says, it turns out that after ten years of imprisonment, the man was declared innocent.

Aleksandr’s narration resumes. He writes of his own difficulty in adjusting to the prison and his sense that all the other men behave as if they are on their way somewhere, rather than having arrived at their destination. The daydream of freedom lives within all of them, but those who admit it openly are mocked for their hopefulness. After beginning to catalog the men according to their relationships with the idea of freedom, Aleksandr stops himself, explaining that reality never fits into neat categories.

Speaking once more of his struggles to adjust, Aleksandr returns to the subject of why it is more difficult for a nobleman to live in prison than a common person. His argument breaks down into two parts: the other convicts treat noblemen more roughly than others, and noblemen are not used to living under physical conditions like that of the prison. These are the thoughts that preoccupy him early on, and one day, he feels, they are confirmed.

On an August day in his first year, many of the prisoners gather in the yard to complain about their conditions, particularly the food. At first, Aleksandr innocently joins them, thinking that they are gathered for a roll call. They warn him away, believing that a nobleman has no place in a crowd making a complaint. He goes to the kitchen, where others who do not wish to complain are gathered. Those who gather for the complaint are scolded, and some punished.

After this event, Aleksandr is puzzled by the fact that no one seems angry at him or the others who did not participate in the complaint. When he asks Petrov why, Petrov seems puzzled by the question. How could a nobleman ever be a true companion to people like him, Petrov wonders? So they are not angry at the noblemen. What Aleksandr finds even more puzzling, however, is that those who complained do not seem to be angry at the other common people, either. He cannot figure this out to his satisfaction.

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Part 2: Chapter 8 Summary