Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The narrator is a lonesome man with few relationships. He seems to lack social ties of any sort, excluding his housekeeper, Matrona, whom he views poorly. Dostoevsky paints him as a sensitive, philosophical man who yearns for female acceptance; the narrator feels deeply and struggles with his feelings of isolation, as he wishes only for someone with whom to share his thoughts and feelings.
Dostoevsky's narrator is also an idealist. He admits that he only finds one hour out of every day bearable: the hour after he has completed his professional duties at the end of the day. Similarly, he maintains that Nastenka represents the perfect woman, the woman whom he has sought throughout his entire life. Throughout the story, the narrator must try to reconcile his idealistic love for Nastenka with reality; she appears fond of him, but her sweet demeanor does not indicate that she harbors romantic inclinations toward him. By the story's end, the narrator is embittered toward life; although he bears no ill will toward Nastenka, he wonders if this fleeting happiness is all life has to offer.
In the story, Nastenka is the young woman with whom the narrator falls in love. Dostoevsky portrays her as the feminine version of the narrator. Like him, Nastenka is sensitive, fanciful, and idealistic. She believes that she can develop feelings of love for the narrator, despite her longing for her lover.
In the story, Nastenka wonders why she pines for her estranged lover. After all, he exhibits little of the narrator's saccharine goodness. During her interactions with the narrator, Nastenka veers from one emotion to the next. She feels it impossible to give up her fascination for her lover. In truth, his brooding character throws her into raptures, and she fancifully imagines that he harbors more tenderness than he lets on. However, she also despairs that her lover will never return to her. The truth about Nastenka is revealed when she spots her lover on the street. Without hesitation, she rushes straight into her lover's arms. By all indications, Nastenka and the narrator manage to retain their idealistic natures as the story concludes.
Originally, Nastenka’s lover was little more than a stranger; she met him when he moved into their upstairs lodgings. Slowly, he began to speak with her, and they began to attend the theatre with Nastenka’s grandmother acting as an unwitting chaperone. He is young and handsome, yet he lacked the financial stability to offer Nastenka marriage. To secure his career and build a life for himself and Nastenka, he left his lodgings in St. Petersburg and began to work in Moscow, promising to return. According to Nastenka, he is a kind man who is sure to keep his word, though this fact is often questioned throughout the story.
Nastenka’s grandmother took in her orphaned granddaughter at a young age and assumed the responsibility of raising and educating the young girl. Although she loves her granddaughter, she is a strict guardian, and she constantly worries that Nastenka will get herself into trouble. As such, she is blind and finds it difficult to keep an eye on Nastenka, so she forces the young girl to pin their dresses together and spend the day beside her. The grandmother fears modernity and change; she is anxious that Nastenka will become an immoral woman. However, her efforts to keep her granddaughter virtuous have made Nastenka deeply unhappy and her protectiveness often does more harm than good.
A middle-aged woman whom the narrator employs as a maid and housekeeper, Matrona appears kind and thoughtful. However, the narrator characterizes her as dull, unintelligent, and lacking imagination. Despite her efforts—serving him dinner nightly, bringing him his mail, and maintaining his home—the narrator views her poorly and reprimands her for the cobwebs on his ceiling and what he views as her sluttishness. When the narrator spends his days in idle fantasy, it is Matrona who cares for him, feeds him, and ensures his basic comforts are met.