Golyadkin’s Human “Shriek”

by Amy Ronner

Amy D. Ronner is Professor of Law at the St. Thomas University School of Law. The following was redacted and revised by Dr. Ronner from her book, Dostoevsky and the Law (Carolina Academic Press, 2015).

The_Scream (1)Golyadkin and Andrei Petrovich Versilov, although conceivably split or doubling, are not the crazed or mad others who are so radically different from the rest of the human species and from their author. Dostoevsky understood that, while the double can be a step that could lead to disaster, it does not always do so. In a letter that Dostoevsky penned to his friend Yekaterina Yunge, an artist and memoirist who had confided that she suffered from chronic “duality,” he emphatically expressed his views: “[Duality is] the most ordinary trait of people, who are not entirely ordinary, however.” Dostoevsky felt that, in his own case, the “ordinary trait” – that of duality – is “a great torment, but at the same time a great delight too.” He told Yunge it was a “powerful consciousness, need for self-evaluation, and the presence in your nature of the need for moral obligation toward yourself and toward humanity.” In essence, doubling can be normative, part and parcel of the creative process, a nexus between internal and external realms, and that sacrosanct conduit between the self and the human race.

It is not surprising that psychiatrist Richard Rosenthal, coming to a similar realization, aligns Golyadkin with postlapsarian humanity: “[…] like Golyadkin, we try to clothe ourselves in an omnipotent other self, a self we could have been or secretly believe we someday still will be, a self who is free of the painful awareness of just those limitations which define our boundaries and make us who we are.”[1]

The “all” and “everybody” in Golyadkin becomes apparent in the novel right before Rutenspitz carts our “hero” off to the asylum: Golyadkin scans the attendees at the party and sees “[a] whole procession of identical Golyadkins . . . bursting loudly in at every door.” The implication here is that everyone is or might be a Golyadkin: Dostoevsky thus compels his readers to see not some peculiar anomaly, but rather, just a parade of everyday selves. The novel urges readers to examine doubly both Golyadkin’s struggles and their own, and to endure that all-too familiar “painful awareness” of their human limitations. Like or not, readers tend to meld with Golyadkin as his fate becomes their own. When Golyadkin met his double, he “wanted to scream, but could not.” At his finale, Golyadkin succeeds at emitting that blood-curdling shriek while being whisked away. His shriek is our shriek as well.

[1] Richard Rosenthal, “Dostoevsky’s Experiment with Projective Mechanisms and the Theft of Identity in The Double,” in Russian Literature and Psychoanalysis, ed. Daniel Rancour-Laferriere (Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989), 83.

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