Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813
A Raw Youth is divided into three sections, each of which relates the events of three days. The narrator of the three sections is Arkady Dolgoruky; the narration takes the form of an autobiography unintended for readers.
The first section of the novel is in the form of a flashback as Arkady relates the events of the previous year. It contains a self-description of Arkady as a schoolboy, especially the evolution of his “idea”: to become a Rothschild. The acquisition of money, however, is not an end in itself; the power which accompanies money is the real goal. At this time Arkady makes his first real acquaintance with his father, Andrei Versilov.
Arkady is initially portrayed as resentful of his illegitimate birth, his father’s seeming indifference to the fate of his son, and the taunts of his peers concerning his low status on the social ladder. To make matters worse, he has heard rumors, confirmed by almost unimpeachable sources, that his father has behaved dishonorably on a number of occasions, thus bringing even more shame to the boy.
The section concludes, however, on a completely different note; Arkady realizes that his father not only is not guilty of the many misdeeds attributed to his name but also is a very good person with high ideals and a rigid code of honor. As the new image of his father takes shape in his mind, Arkady changes his attitude from hatred to boundless admiration for his father. Arkady discovers that his father was not the sire of an illegitimate child by the crippled daughter of Katerina Akhmakova, but only offered to marry the unfortunate girl out of love and compassion for her mother. Arkady also realizes that Versilov has not propositioned another girl, but was seeking to come to her aid during a period of extreme financial distress. Finally, Versilov’s voluntary surrender of an inheritance, won only after a lengthy court wrangle, convinces Arkady of the inherent goodness in his father. Arkady’s feelings of spite and resentment disappear, and he begins a new life based on his resurrection from the depths of depression.
The second section of the novel depicts Arkady’s initiation into “the good life” of St. Petersburg society and his further knowledge of his father. His previous idea—to become a Rothschild—is replaced by the search for the beauty and dignity of life. Arkady falls in love with Katerina Akhmakova, an elegant society woman, who is much older than the youth; he also learns that his father has an obsessive passion for the same woman, based upon a curious love/hate combination. The second section ends in disaster for Arkady; he is unceremoniously expelled from an illegal but fashionable gambling den because of false charges of theft, of which he is eventually exonerated. He passes out in the street, a victim of fever, and remains unconscious for nine days.
The third and final section of the novel recounts the violent clash of the currents which surfaced in the second section. A letter which would compromise Katerina’s position with her father, threatening to put him under court supervision because of suspected senility, occupies a central place in the drama of this section. The characters, with Versilov now occupying center stage, are depicted in the light of their attitudes toward the fateful letter. A picture of chaos is drawn for the reader, and Arkady’s newly found peace of mind is destroyed as the whirlwind of events proves too much for him. At this point, Makar Dolgoruky arrives upon the scene as a personified anti-thesis of the way of life among the upper class which not only permits but is conducive to this disorder. Makar, however, solves nothing; he merely presents, through the example of his life, an alternative way of living. At the end of the novel the misunderstandings are solved. While the characters are visibly changed for the better, the reader remains unconvinced that their lives will be peaceful for long.
The link between the three sections is Arkady, the narrator. Although the central position in the novel is surrendered to Versilov in the final section, the reader views the events and characters of all three sections through the eyes of Arkady. For example, the original negative impression of Versilov changes only when Arkady’s impression of his father evolves from bad to good. Throughout the novel one is aware of Arkady’s gradual, painful, and confusing change from a resentful adolescent into a balanced, optimistic young man. The climax of this development is Arkady’s recognition of the double within himself, two aspects of the same personality often working at cross purposes.
Arkady’s adjustment is not the only evident evolution of personality; Versilov himself is apparently cured of the afflictions caused by his dual personality. Father and son solve their problems at the same time.