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The House of the Dead ~ First Four Chapters

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The House of the Dead ~ First Four Chapters

Post Number:#1  Postby Scott » 16 Dec 2007, 17:56

This is the first discussion thread for The House of the Dead, which is the December Book of the Month. We will be discussing the first four chapters in this thread. If you have not yet read the first four chapters, please wait to read this thread until you have because the thread will contain spoilers. If you have read past the first four chapters, please participate in this discussion but don't mention anything past the fourth chapter.

How do you like book so far? Has it caught your interest?

What do you think of the narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov? Do you sympathize with him? Can you imagine being sentenced to so many years of hard labor in prison?

Please post any quotes from the first four chapters of the book that you especially like.

If you have any questions for the other readers, please ask them.

Thanks,
Scott
Last edited by Scott on 23 Dec 2007, 22:34, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Number:#2  Postby jsavage » 18 Dec 2007, 21:06

How do you like book so far? Has it caught your interest?

What do you think of the narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov? Do you sympathize with him? Can you imagine being sentenced to so many years of hard labor in prison?


the author has a unique and interesting writing style and the book has caught my attention so far. i thought it was unusual how in the beginning the narrator says that it's not uncommon to encounter a teacher who was once a convict and how these former prisoners are not outcastes. maybe this has to do with a general belief that one was "cured" in prison and should no longer be feared? That during a prison sentence, one learned a great deal and could become a respected member of the community. what do you think about this?

i'm not sure yet how i feel about alexandr quite yet. he seems like a quiet and observing inmate. but we know that he's there because he killed his wife (supposedly). he seems gentle enough, however we have learned nothing about his feelings toward his own guilt. here are some of the most striking parts i've encountered so far -
the metaphors he used in describing the prison and the outside - "outside the gate is light and freedom, inside, the worlds apart, it's the house of the dead"
what cannot a man live through! man is a creature that can get accustomed to anything, and i think that is the best definition of him.

of course, prisons and penal servitude do not reform the criminal; they only punish him and protect society from further attacks on its security.


other important themes, the importance of meaningful work in the prisoner's life. the guards tolerance for drunkenness among the inmates - why do they tolerate the vodka? do they sympathize in some way? were they once in prison themselves? the prison economics are interesting, i found it fascinating how even in prison if there is a way to make money - capitalism will emerge. there are the risk takers who actually smuggle in the vodka while the higher up inmates just turn a profit on their risk.
also, why are the traitors not shunned in prison? why is this smaller corrupt society OK with traitors?
the last segment here ends with alexandr contemplating the most difficult problems, why is the murderer who kills children because he enjoys it punished in (almost) exactly the same way as the murderer who killed to defend his child? and is prison really punishment? some people rely on it for 3 square meals and the bonus of companionship among the other prisoners. while to other it's a living hell where each day grows more difficult to bear. how can these great differences be justified?
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Re: The House of the Dead ~ First Four Chapters

Post Number:#3  Postby Dori » 25 Dec 2007, 20:41

Scott Hughes wrote:How do you like book so far? Has it caught your interest?

What do you think of the narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov? Do you sympathize with him? Can you imagine being sentenced to so many years of hard labor in prison?

Please post any quotes from the first four chapters of the book that you especially like.

If you have any questions for the other readers, please ask them.

Thanks,
Scott


The book has certainly caught my interest, just like every other of Dostoevsky's books.

Concerning Aleksandr Petrovich, I think he is, as jsavage mentioned, quiet and observing. He was only sentenced for ten years if I remember correctly, which is easily imaginable in comparison with the "lifers". I can't help but to sympathize with him. His descriptions of some convicts, namely Gazin, only strengthen my sympathy for him.

jsavage wrote:"outside the gate is light and freedom, inside, the worlds apart, it's the house of the dead"


My translation says:
Constance Garnett, in her translation, wrote:Outside that gate is the world of light and freedom, where men live like the rest of mankind. But those living on this side of the fence picture that world as some unattainable fairyland. Here there is a world apart, unlike everything else, with laws of its own, its own dress, its own manners and customs, and here is the house of the living dead---life as nowhere else and a people apart.



jsavage wrote:the prison economics are interesting, i found it fascinating how even in prison if there is a way to make money - capitalism will emerge. there are the risk takers who actually smuggle in the vodka while the higher up inmates just turn a profit on their risk.


I also found this rather interesting. When I first looked at the book, I thought Dostoevsky's depiction of prison life in Russia would be drastically different. The thought of "prison economics" never crossed my mind.


The following are a few quotes which I liked.

Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote:Man is a creature that can get accustomed to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.


Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote:Swearing, "wagging your tongue" is allowed. It is to some extent an entertainment for all [...] And indeed the combatants swear at one another rather for entertainment, for the exercise of their linguistic powers [...] I could not imagine at first how they could abuse one another for pleasure, find in it amusement, pleasant exercise, enjoyment. But one must not forget their vanity. A connoisseur in abuse was respected. He was almost applauded like an actor.
"Fine words will butter no parsnips."
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