Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 580
Now take a man of heart, of cultivated mind, and of delicate conscience. What he feels kills him more certainly than the material punishment. The judgment which he himself pronounces on his crime is more pitiless than that of the most severe tribunal, the most Draconian law. He lives by the side of another convict, who has not once reflected on the murder he is expiating, during the whole time of his sojourn in the convict prison. He, perhaps, even considers himself innocent. Are there not, also, poor devils who commit crimes in order to be sent to hard labour, and thus to escape the liberty which is much more painful than confinement? A man's life is miserable, he has never, perhaps, been able to satisfy his hunger. He is worked to death in order to enrich his master. In the convict prison his work will be less severe, less crushing. He will eat as much as he wants, better than he could ever have hoped to eat, had he remained free.
Goryanchikov, the narrator based loosely on Dostoyevsky, himself, early on ruminates on the different types of prisoners in the Siberian labor camp. In the quote above, he distinguishes between prisoners like himself, from a higher class of society, who are likely to feel acute guilt over their crimes, and those from the lower classes. He indicts Russian society as a whole when he says lower class people are sometimes treated better in the labor camps than while free, because, at least in prison, they are well fed. Goryanchikov will also note that the men can find friendships in the camp that they might not find in ordinary life.
Whoever has experienced the power and the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being automatically loses his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease. The habit can kill and coarsen the very best man or woman to the level of a beast.
As the above quote attests, long before the Nazi concentration camps exposed the bestiality and sadism that can emerge when one person is given too much power over another, Goryanchikov records its damaging and dehumanizing effects on the guards.
I once saw a convict...
(The entire section contains 580 words.)
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