The Devils/Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Fyodor Dostoevsky had worked for several years on a novel to be called “The Life of a Great Sinner.” Mistakenly translated in the past as “The Possessed,” the title refers to the infestation of foreign political and philosophical ideas that swept Russia in the second half of the 19th century.”The Possessed” is among the best, yet complex books ever written by Dostoevsky. It has a deep political embedding of Russian, merging it with pure realism, exposing nihilism, portraying existentialism, plus dark atrocities.”These demons, then, are ideas, that legion of -isms that came to Russia from the West: idealism, rationalism, empiricism, materialism, utilitarianism, positivism, socialism, anarchism, nihilism, and, underlying them all, atheism.” -Dostoevsky, taking as his starting point the political chaos around him at the time, constructs an elaborate morality tale in which the people of a provincial town turn against one another because they are convinced of the infallibility of their ideas.

“What I am writing now is a tendentious thing.” Dostoyevsky wrote to a friend in connection with his first outline for The Devils. “I feel like saying everything as passionately as possible. (Let the nihilists and the Westerners scream that I am reactionary!) To hell with them. I shall say everything to the last word.” As Dostoyevsky predicted, “The Devils”, or”The Possessed”, was indeed denounced by radical critics as the work of a reactionary renegade. But radicals aside, it enjoyed great success both for its literary power and for its explicit and provocative politics; and for its story of Russian terrorists plotting violence and destruction, only to murder one of their own numbers.(Stavrogin’s Confession from the Prologue of book).

The main beauty of this novel is its central theme revolved and capture around the problems in Russia in 19 century in most crystal way possible, the dispute between the older men of the ’40s and the younger men of the ’60s. Both of these groups are stereotypes, though salient types of the time. Men of the ’40s were superfluous men, aristocratic, highly educated Russians who desired change in their homeland, though were unable to influence change directly. They tended to live outside of Russia, particularly in Germany or France and pursued literary pursuits.Men of the ’60s, on the other hand, had tired of their elders’ talking and desired direct revolutionary action for political change.Fyodor pulled a miracle in narration in this work, Narrator is an observer of the action in the novel as well as a participant in much of the action. Strangely, though, the author shifts from the direct point of view of the narrator to a more omniscient, impersonal observer from time to time to describe the action, which the narrator does not directly observe. Presumably, our narrator found out about these episodes from some other source later. The novel itself is a retelling of the events of the town from the narrator’s point of view. He often inserts his own opinion of who is to blame for certain events and lets on that he knows what will happen in the future, often with significant foreshadow.

The novel is set in a small town of Skvoreshniki, and is narrated by Govorov; who is both a respected member of the society plus a journalist, and follows to tell the story as it is written from the Biography of Stepan Trofimovitch, who is an ardent thinker, poet, and philosopher. From his narration, we are introduced to the relationship between Stephan and Varvara Petrovna, and it leads us to the development of Nikolay stravrogin Vsyevolodovitch, who is the central character in the book, and who further is home schooled by Stepan until he reaches the age of joining the army.

As it is with Dostoevsky novels, the Possessed seeks to explore existentialism; the human condition as to why we live, and the ideals that guide us. It further brings out the concept of redemption that perturbs the human conscience after committing an evil deed. The author analyses the self, and whether we have a prime idea for our existence.The analogy of demons in the novel Possessed/ the Devils by Fyodor Dostoevsky is used to show how certain ideas influence individuals and led them to alienation of the spirit from the body like Hegel states in his philosophy of freedom, God, and the State.Like the actions of Nikolay will show us that sometimes a particular way of thinking can ruin us: it can make us nihilists with no cause in life; therefore we commit actions beyond us.Whereas the demons also symbolise freedom as you will see from the character, Pyotr or Peter.Every character in the novel is possessed by demons/idea, and the author through Stepan Trofimovitch reads the Bible where Christ casts out demons from a possessed man and throws them into the pigs, which run down the cliff and drown in the sea. This analogy is used to show that in the end, when the possessed man’s idea comes to fruition, it eventually leads to his demise, for nearly all the characters in the novel die one way or the other driven by a madden idea about their existence. This brings out the theme of existentialism in the novel.

The idea/demons affect all the characters in the novel, leading to many deaths. It seems that the characters in Possessed suffer, as they try to unravel why it is they are alive. This is sonorous to us human beings, as we try every day to discover why we alive, and not just end it all and commit suicide. Fyodor Dostoevsky has captured the essence of existentialism in this deep political book, which is a pleasure to read and ponder on.

Spoiler Alert: The end is Short But Tragic.


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