Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

The House of the Dead is a somewhat autobiographical novel by Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The book is based on the four years he spent doing forced labor in a military prison in Siberia and the people he met there.

Illustration of PDF document

Download The House of the Dead Study Guide

Subscribe Now

At the beginning of the story there is a nameless narrator who really just stumbles upon the main story of the book. This man meets Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, who essentially becomes the narrator as the story turns to focus on his prison memoirs.

Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov is an ex-convict, who spent ten years in prison for the crime of killing his own wife. Through his observations, we see what life in prison is like. He also happens to be of noble birth.

Sushilov is a prisoner who attaches himself to Goryanchikov and essentially becomes his servant. He is very humble and unassuming.

Aley is a very warm and charismatic prisoner who becomes friends with Goryanchikov.

Akim Akimovich is a naive prisoner who believes so fully in honesty that he turned himself in to the police for his crime.

Aristov is a prison informer with no morals and no composure.

Orlov is a defiant prisoner and hardened criminal who is so overly sure of himself and his strength that he eventually pushes himself to his own death.

Petrov is the polite and mysterious prisoner who befriends Goryanchikov and is feared by other prisoners.

Isaiah Fomich is the only Jewish prisoner in this town. He is well-liked and owed money by many people, and so he is protected by his fellow prisoners and the Jews in the town of the prison.

Miretsky is a prisoner and Polish nobleman who feels very disconnected from the other prisoners.

The Major is a strict and cruel officer who runs the prison.

Characters Discussed

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887

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...

(The entire section contains 1526 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The House of the Dead study guide. You'll get access to all of the The House of the Dead content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Quotes
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial



Critical Essays