Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov
Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov (peh-TROH-vihch gohr-YAN-chih-kov), the narrator of the main body of the work, a former convict and nobleman. He has a philosopher’s curiosity about the characters of people, sometimes speaking in the voice of a social reformer but more often simply awed and fascinated by the human soul itself. His incarceration has changed his life, but he writes a dispassionate memoir. He has found in the prison his ideal observatory, examining there the many strange specimens to be found among the souls of men. Goryanchikov supposedly was put in prison for murdering his young wife out of jealousy, but it soon becomes clear that Goryanchikov is, as the author himself was, a political prisoner. It also becomes clear (as the details of the author’s own incarceration reveal) that the narrator is an autobiographical figure.
Sushilov (sew-SHIH-lov), a prisoner who works as Goryanchikov’s servant, a literal glutton for punishment. He is pitiable, humble, and even downtrodden, although none of the prisoners has trampled on him. Without being asked, he binds himself to Goryanchikov and takes on every dull and ignoble personal duty that prison life allows. For his efforts, he receives the inconsequential money that Goryanchikov can, intermittently, pay him and the privilege of serving this (only nominally, given his incarceration) superior person. For these privileges, he is painfully, ridiculously grateful. It is known around the prison that Sushilov had “changed places”; that is, he was paid to exchange his identity and lighter sentence for that of another prisoner. This practice was not unheard of in the Russian prison system of the time. Sushilov’s exchange is notorious among the prisoners, however, because he exchanged simple banishment for an indefinite period of hard labor in a military prison, for the price of one silver ruble and a red shirt. Sushilov is incorruptible. His is a pure nature, an example of how humble and utterly selfless humans can be.
(The entire section is 887 words.)