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Bullet Points for Making Sense of "The Double"

[ Edited ]
The Double is a strange story. There was fiction about doubles before Dostoevsky wrote his tale—in E.T.A. Hoffman, Mary Shelley, and Edgar Allen Poe, among others. But Dostoevsky drenched his characters with that manic, paranoid mind that he made famous. Dostoevsky’s story became a modern metaphor for that divided self we all sometimes feel. You can see his deep influence in books that came after, from Franz Kafka’s loners to Samuel Beckett’s injured heroes.

Because this story’s a tough read, we can keep some of the following bullet points in mind. For anyone reading the B&N version, the introduction by Deborah Martinsen offers nice insight to the story. These bullet points can be talking points as we move through the story together.

—Especially as you begin the story, think of how the protagonist, Golyadkin, is worried about his reputation. He’s what psychologists would certainly call a narcissist: someone atypically worried about how people see him. He fears being exposed. “Golyadkin” means naked—and the public gaze is important in this book. Look for the times “gaze” is used. Sometimes the hero feels like he can kill others with his gaze; sometimes he feels stripped by their gaze.

—The structure is filled with 2’s and a manic back-and-forth motion. Two times, Golyadkin takes a carriage from his middle class neighborhood, across the Izmailovsky bridge, into the richer neighborhood, to crash his boss’s parties. He hopes to win the heart of his superior’s daughter. On each visit, he shadows his old paralyzed self: crouching outside the party, waiting. There are also two times that he shakes his double’s hand. Letters shuttle back and forth between Golyadkin and the double, mirroring the push-and-retreat of Golyadkin’s ego. The double at times is that self he wishes he could be. The story takes place over four days. Help us trace the structure as you go.

—Can you think of Golyadkin’s double as a metaphor for how we deal with different sides of ourselves? What aspects of the human struggle do you think Dostoevsky is exploring? What parts of ourselves do we intermittently admire and reject?
This dynamic is also partly rooted in a moment in history, in which the rules of class and social rank were changing. This hero is unsure of his social position.

Feel free to add more talking points of your own, in each of the chapter threads below.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 03-04-200710:54 AM

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