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Written by Jessica Weed
Aksenty Ivanovich Poprishchin
Aksenty is the narrator and main character of the short story, which he tells through a series of journal entries. He is a titular councilor in modern Russia, which is a noble position. Aksenty is proud of his rank, but considers his position a dead end. He revers the director, and considers him an intelligent and respectable man. Aksenty is attracted to the directtor’s daughter, Sophie. He becomes jealous of Sophie’s suitor, Teplov. Teplov is a kammerjunker, which is a servant to the royal family, and a higher position than a titular councilor.
Throughout the short story, Aksenty slips into madness. This is first obvious when he imagines a conversation between two dogs. Aksenty admits that he “had begun sometimes to hear and see things no one has ever seen or heard before.” Aksenty steals and reads letters one of the dogs wrote to the other. Later, Aksenty imagines that he is the King of Spain. He becomes a king because it puts him at a higher position than Teplov, who would then be his servant. After skipping work a bunch of times, signing his name as “Ferdinand VIII,” and cutting up his clothes to make royal robes, Aksenty is brought to a mad house. In the last entry, it looks like Aksenty realizes where he is and that he is insane, but in the last sentence he relapses back into madness.
Sophie is the director’s daughter and the object of Aksenty’s desire. Since most of what we learn about Sophie comes from Medji’s letters, which are Aksenty’s hallucinations, we cannot be sure how much of it is accurate. Aksenty often associates Sophie with light, airy images (ex., air, the color white, birds, the sun) to emphasize his affection for her. These also give her an image of purity. Aksenty becomes very jealous of Sophie’s suitor. When he becomes the King of Spain, Aksenty visits Sophie and declares that they will be together and very happy.
Teplov is Sophie’s suitor. He is a kammerjunker, which is a servant to the royal family. He his described with “dark hair,” “dark and glowing eyes like fire,” and a “smooth, broad face.” Medji writes in her litter to Fidèle that Teplov and Sophie would most likely marry. Aksenty is jealous of Teplov and expresses that he could be a general so that he would be of a higher rank than Teplov. When Aksenty imagines that he is the King of Spain, this reflects his desire to be more worthy to marry Sophie than Teplov. As a servant to the royal family, Teplov would be at Aksenty’s command if Aksenty was, in fact, King Ferdinand VIII of Spain.
Medji and Fidèle
Medji is Sophie’s lapdog. Aksenty imagines that Medji has a conversation with another little dog, Fidèle. He imagines the two dogs write letters to each other, and he goes to Fidèle’s home to get the letters Medji supposedly wrote. Aksenty reads Medji’s letters. He learns that the director is very ambitious, which makes him more dignified than Aksenty already assumed. He also learns about Sophie, especially how she is being courted by a kammerjunker named Teplov.
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