The following papers were written and submitted by students in the Spring 1996 course on Dostoevsky at Middlebury College. The full text of the papers can be accessed by clicking on the titles.

Dostoevsky and the Theme of Children

Caroline Tillier

As an adult, Dostoevsky became fascinated with children, but was extremely affected by the suffering they were often forced to endure. As a result, the theme of children became "one of the most important in his portrayal of society" and he became obsessed with the theme of "children on the road to destruction"(p.572, Grossman). The charming children in his novels possess a simple, vulnerable, and innocent nature which highlights the contrasting, cruel society. In dealing with these cruelties, the children must gain strength and learn to sacrifice themselves in order to withstand these burdens; if their purity and fragile innocence is harmed, however, they often chose to put an end to their hardships and commit suicide.

Dreams, Devils, and Dominion:
A Study of Pride and Guilt in Dostoevsky

Jennifer Cleary

In "On Dreams," Freud asserted that feelings of guilt, if repressed from consciousness, inevitably surface in unconscious symptoms, such as nightmares or madness. Although a person may repress his conscience, the guilt is merely displaced to another part of the mind, and eventually, this repressed matter must return. In the works of Dostoevsky, a character's guilt often manifests itself in dreams by presenting the character's purely devilish self or his worst fears. Not only does the character himself assume in dreams a totally fiendish nature, but the beings he encounters do also. Whether the devil appears literally, as in Ivan Karamazov's case, or in the likeness of the character's victim, as in the cases of Raskolnikov and Stavrogin, the mere fact of the devil's emergence reveals that the character has failed to elude guilt, a human universal, despite what he thinks or says consciously. In that the character himself is responsible for his nightmare, in that he is incapable of escaping the guilt that plagues him, the character constitutes his own devil. Because he is human, he suffers guilt, and hence, cannot get away with his crime. He is not as good at being bad as he believes. What do these dreams mean, in light of the fact that they are the literary creations of an author? How does guilt effectively temper pride? We shall attempt to answer these questions in examining the crimes, the dreams, and the devils of Raskolnikov, Stavrogin, and Ivan Karamazov.

A Russian Magdalen: Dostoevsky's Saintly Prostitute

Aurora E. Choi
Not for this I was born and then raised up.
Unacquainted was I with such need.
I once prayed to God, I was faithful.
I once had a soul that knew peace.
-from "Fallen," a Russian brothel song (Bernstein, 169)
Prostitutes, women who sell their bodies for money, have been frowned upon since antiquity by most members of society. However, from as early as Rahab, the Whore of Jericho in the Old Testament who helped Joshua and his men regain the Promised Land, prostitutes have been portrayed as not only as sinners with the possibility of redemption, but women who lead men to salvation as well. This trend was particularly taken up in nineteenth-century Russian literature: "Elevated into powerful literary symbols by authors like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy..., prostitutes became female archetypes who either disillusioned the men with whom they associated or raised them to a higher plane of being" Dostoevsky uses this idea of a "saintly prostitute" repeatedly in his works. The archetype that Bernstein claims he creates in based on the image of Mary Magdalen from the New Testament, the celebrated reformed prostitute who devotes her life to Christ. Crime and Punishment's Sonya Marmeladova, of whom "Notes from Underground's Liza is a prototype, performs the role of the penitent sinner who leads the way to salvation: the saintly prostitute Mary Magdalen.

Dostoevsky's Nastasya Filippovna:
A Woman Scorned

Nicola Smith

Of the many characters we see in Dostoyevsky's novels, few of the principal characters are female. However, in one of his more famous novels, The Idiot, we find perhaps one of the strongest female characters of most nineteenth-century literature, if not of Europe, then at least of Russia. Nastasya Filippovna, a proud, yet exploited woman, is by far one of Dostoyevsky's most intriguing characters. She has an instantaneous and dramatic affect on the characters surrounding her. Nastasya Filippovna has been systematically destroyed by her surroundings. She finds she is unable to survive in the society of her time. Valued by men only for her beauty or her possessions, feared by jealous women, Nastasya Filippovna succumbs to insanity and finally, her own murder. Believing herself to be guilty and in need of punishment and purification, Nastasya Filippovna fights yet, finally, submits herself to destructive forces that surround her.

Dostoevsky and Autobiography -- the Prison Years

Jennifer Jay

Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky is perhaps one of the most well known but least understood authors from the nineteenth century. His life was one full of misfortune and suffering; his works filled with religious pondering and philosophical discussions. Dostoevsky's life experiences were integrated into the characters in his pieces, both in terms of personality and ideology. An especially important turning point in his life was his arrest and imprisonment at the age of twenty-seven, shortly after the beginning of his writing career. This prison sentence and time in exile served to shape his perceptions and beliefs towards life, which were then incorporated into his literary works.

Dostoevsky as an anti-Semite

Jon Carver

Literary anti-Semitism is as old as Western culture itself. A full listing of writers who have expressed hostility toward Jews and/or Judaism--from Shakespeare to T.S. Eliot, from Pushkin to Pasternak, etc.--would add up to a Who's Who of Western literature. Undoubtedly, Dostoevsky follows in this tradition.

Dostoyevsky and the Problem of God

Elissa Kiskaddon
"Nothing is more seductive for man than his freedom of conscience. But nothing is a greater cause of suffering." The Brothers Karamazov, 1880.
In contemplating the creation of the novel The Idiot, Dostoyevsky wrote in a letter to A.N. Maikov that he hoped to focus the work around a question "with which I have been tormented, consciously or unconsciously all my life--that is, the existence of God." Dostoyevsky's personal struggle with the question of faith, and also his own experience with trying doubts as a believer, are manifested in the characters he writes. A large number of Dostoyevsky's books are written within the framework of a Christian doctrine, juxtaposing characterizations of believers and non-believers, enforcing the ultimate good and reason that follow from possessing a faith. Dostoyevsky also describes however, the mental suffering and questioning inherent in the step of realizing the "truth" of Jesus Christ. Berdyaev, in a discussion on Dostoyevsky's mission, states that "he did not have to solve the divine problem as does the pagan, but the problem of mankind,which is the problem of the spiritual man, the Christian."

Dostoevsky and Psychology

Dan Cantrell
"A sick man's dreams are often extraordinarily distinct and vivid and extremely life-like. A scene may be composed of the most unnatural and incongruous elements, but the setting and presentation are so plausible, the details so subtle, so unexpected, so artistically in harmony with the whole picture, that the dreamer could not invent them for himself in his waking state. . . "
Fyodor Dostoevsky's remarkable insight into the psychology of man is seen here in the development of Raskolnikov's dream on the beating of a horse by drunken peasants. The dream is significant on several planes, most notably in the parallel of events in the dream with Raskolnikov's plan to murder the old pawnbroker. It also serves as perhaps the most direct example of the inseparable tie between events of the author's life with the psychological evolution of his protagonists, as well as lesser characters, through the criminal minds of Raskolnikov, Rogozhin, Stavrogin, and Smerdyakov, and into the familial relationships of The Brother's Karamazov.

Dostoevsky and Social Issues
One Possible Answer: God

Savic Rasovic

In Dostoevsky's novels pain and some heavy burden of the inevitability of human suffering and helplessness form Russia. And he depicts it not with white gloves on, nor through the blisters of the peasant, but through people who are close to him and his realities: city people who either have faith, or secular humanists who are so remote from reality that even when they love humanity they despise humans because of their own inability to achieve or to create paradise on earth. His novels The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment are best examples of the poisonous effect of such ideals on the common human. The rebellion of these humanists against the system and the reality of human life becomes more important, thus love becomes the filter and the servant of pride and ideals. The cause of XIX c. liberals becomes more important to them than the actual human being that might not fit the picture of their perfect and humane society. Through these problems and opposites which cross and overlap each other, Dostoevsky depicts social issues, especially the problem of murder, through an image of people who go through pain. He presents a graphical experience of ones who do not know how to deal with humanity and its problems. Dostoevsky himself does not give a clear solution nor does he leave one with the certainty of faith for an example. He says himself:

Finding myself lost in the solution of these questions, I decide to bypass them with no solution at all. (From the Author. The Brothers Karamazov)