Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Jefferson J. A. Gatrall

Committee Member

Grover C. Furr

Committee Member

Monika Elbert


This thesis will focus on the liars in three of Dostoevsky’s major novels: The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Demons. It will consist of three chapters devoted to one character (liar) from each novel. I will focus on several definitions of lying by examining the concepts of untruth and misfire, which will help to differentiate the characteristics of each character’s motivations, as well as the consequences that their words have on the discourse within the novels. This project’s primary focus will be in exploring the rhetoric of lying by studying the style of each liar’s verbal delivery. The degrees and severity of lying vary, as do the motivations of these three particular characters. While TBfC s Fyodor Karamazov is a cunning, malicious, and shameless “buffoon,” who is drawn to the theatrical aspect of lying, The Idiot’s General Ivolgin is less manipulative and is viewed as an unsuccessful storyteller. Both of these “elder liars” are presented as performers, which complicates the few moments of truth that arise during their public confessions. The truth becomes a very unstable and, at times, indefinable element in all three novels. The third character, who will serve as the exception to the stereotypical “old liar,” is Demons’ young Pyotr Verkhovensky. He is able to cause the most destruction with his well-crafted lies by playing a role and manipulating the inner workings of high society. The final chapter of this thesis will argue that Pyotr’s shameless approach of obtaining control through verbal manipulation sets him apart from Ivolgin and Karamazov. He is the only character who is able transform the somewhat traditional pattern of both the lie and the liar.

The liars are vital characters in the novel, despite the fact that they are often viewed as outsiders. Their main goal is to be heard, and Dostoevsky utilizes performative language as well as theatrical gestures and actions to highlight the fact that their failure is based mainly on lack of self-control and poor judgment. As I mentioned earlier, Pyotr will act as the exception, since he is more of an “underground man” who is able to maintain control of himself and over others. These three characters provide momentum to the action of each novel, and represent a Dostoevskian definition of realism. They serve as a template for the author in his critique on society and our inability to be truthful. In studying the structures of language and philosophy, which are woven into each character, the complexities surrounding seemingly straightforward concepts such as truth and lie are complicated, and require further study.

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