Fyodor Dostoevsky's Memoirs From The House Of The Dead

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Suffering and horror confront Gorianchikov in the hell-like bathhouse: “what one now felt was ... a burning sensation, as from boiling pitch. The convicts shouted and howled to the accompaniment of the hundred chains shaking on the floor” (265). Cramped disfigured bodies, steam-colored, and Isaiah Fomitch self-flagellating while singing in a “hoarse falsetto” (267) characterize the scene. This descent into hell, however, culminates in compassionate imagery significant to understanding Dostoevsky’s redemptive vision. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Memoirs from the House of the Dead expounds on a concept of the possibility of religious/spiritual salvation within a dehumanizing landscape. Through the bathhouse and similar scenes, Dostoevsky develops a compassionate…show more content…
Literary influence from Dante enhances the documentarian focus of exposing the horrors of prison. Dostoevsky links spiritual and bodily disfigurement in a commentary on the physical effects of confinement. Moral confinement and disintegration of an inner spirituality results in monstrous, inhuman characters, as well; A—v, a Russian nobleman, is a character described as “a piece of flesh furnished with teeth and a stomach, greedy for the most offensive and ferocious animal enjoyments” (210). “He was a monster—a moral Quasimodo” (210) remarks Dostoevsky, a “disgusting creature” (210). Animalistic physique is tied to his anti-spiritual moral depravity; although “good-looking” (210), Dostoevsky describes him in bestial terms. He is an extreme example of humanity’s “innate capacity for barbarism”, as Berry notes. A “complete breakdown of a inner spiritual code” is linked to a “descent into primitive savagery” (Berry). Such bestiality directly recalls the bathhouse scene: convicts “swarm” in a “monstrous” way…show more content…
Notes from Underground’s Liza—the ‘noble prostitute’—contains this more subtle manifestation. An uneducated, downtrodden woman degraded and forced into sex work, she functions as a foil to the Underground Man’s egoist nihilism. Her profound compassion in spite of her degradation reveals Dostoevsky’s message of salvation and spirituality. Her character, too, has religious significance. Aurora Choi likens her a “Russian Magdalen”: “Dostoevsky takes a common image of his time period, that of the prostitute, and utilizes her in conjunction with the myth of Mary Magdalen, to convey the ultimate message of repentance for one’s sins and the perpetual chance of salvation” (Choi). Dostoevsky utilizes his dichotomic image more subtly: bestial physical suffering versus humanist compassion. While Liza fails to redeem the Underground Man due to his complete egoism, Gorianchikov of House of the Dead’s experience of being washed is a metaphorical ‘salvation’ from the ‘sin’ inherent to dehumanizing confinement. Petrov infuses spirituality to an otherwise physical situation. Too, Liza holds hope in her possession of a doctor’s letter, allowing a human spirituality in a situation of physical degradation. Profound love and compassion—as given by Liza to the Underground Man—has healing redemptive qualities, an empathetic love distinct from a landscape of
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