You are on page 1of 4

Nicholas Politi      On “Midnight in Dostoevsky”

Don Delillo’s, “Midnight in Dostoevsky,” outlines a bleak world in which two
college-aged teens spend a period of time obsessed with hypothetical realities. Through
Robby and Todd’s conversations, the reader is able to gain a unique and valuable perspective
about the value of certainty and truth to modern society. DeLillo creates a plotline, which not
only explains the effects of losing certainty, but feeds into the reader’s innate necessity for
certainty. Along with Robby and Todd, their logic professor, Ilgauskas, also becomes an
integral part of the young person’s search for certainty, but never caters to the truth. The
atmosphere assures that we as readers come farther and farther away from a world of truth,
only to become engulfed in a plot that is solely based on the subjectivity of the human
imagination. DeLillo means to convey, through Midnight in Dostoevsky, that as society puts
more value on certainty, it shifts toward escapism as a means to an end, albeit, via pretzel
logic.

Among various aspects of ‘certainty’ in DeLillo’s story, a feature that is somewhat
subtle is the use of doubling, or pairs. Historically, doubling has been a common factor in the
plotlines of famous novels. Shakespeare, for one, catered to the Elizabethan public by using
doubling to create a dynamic contrast. Such doubling, however, was expected at the time,
and to this day remains a certainty in literature. In fact, Elizabethan actors doubled
characters themselves; an example of this comes in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the
same actor would often played both the parts of Oberon and Theseus, as well as Hippolyta
and Titania. In this way, the above-mentioned characters can be seen as united, merely
because the same actor played them. DeLillo played into this historic certainty and
expectation of doubling by including various dichotomous pairs in his own writing. Perhaps
the most obvious and significant of DeLillo’s pairs is Robby and Todd, the dynamic duo who,
together, decipher their own subjective truths about hyperreality. Robby and Todd can
hypothetically be seen as one organic whole, making it easier to understand the dichotomy of
their personalities. If one sees Robby and Todd as one, the occurrence an internal conflict
becomes clearer to the reader. This conflict is not a petty one of friends fighting, rather, the
conflict of truth and reality versus their own situation. Robby and Todd traverse the streets of
their town in a constant state of wonder and curiosity, bouncing small factoids off of each
other as if they were somehow contained in one entity. Through a meta-lens, Robby and
Todd, a pair themselves, speak of pairs in their own conversations. An example of Robby
and Todd’s use of pairs is when they spot a hooded figure in the distance, running. A
dialogue ensues where the duo argue about the possibilities of the coat. To Robby and Todd,
the coat can either be a loden coat or an anorak. The idea of pairs inside of other pairs
transcends even simpler Shakespearean dichotomies by making logic illogical, and opening
up the audience to new and consequential hyperrealities. Even so, it seems that DeLillo is
satirizing certainty by implementing a more pairs within an already existing pair, and poking
fun at the modern need for certainty by creating more opportunities for curiosity. Such satire
feeds into the idea that DeLillo believes that the modern public is shifting away from
certainty and into a world of escapism, which can be very ambiguous. The case of the
hooded man and his coat, be it a loden coat or an anorak, is extremely ambiguous. However,
the concept that the audience would never know the true premise of the coat caters also to the
public need for curiosity and escapism, as it leaves a mystery, which is favorable in writing.

in his purest symbolic form. which they are both ultimately able to agree upon. DeLillo criticizes and decides not to fulfill this yearning in order to show that. a concept which Robby and Todd rely only loosely upon. The idea of a female and male character somehow. The modern audience. . none of which is credible and is ambiguous in and of itself. Ilgauskas’s single identity according to Robby and Todd allows him to function as. Ilgauskas is the one that the duo is able to agree on as being a singlesided entity. but also becomes the least dichotomous character of the story. Isabel. Whatever certainty there was in the story. Jenna is pulled out of the plotline almost as quickly as she is pulled in. but refer to as a singular and certain being. who becomes a curiosity of Robby. A last example of DeLillo’s catering to certainty in Midnight in Dostoevsky is his use of Ilgauskas. the crossroads between the duo’s hyperreality and absolute truth. Robby. even by fact itself. The concept of romance between two characters occurring. They use a form of completely illogical logic. the story caters once again to the needs and expectations of the public to create hypothetical situations. Although his class is dependent on the purest form of logic. An important and extremely understated example of this is embedding his story with a female character. Essentially. this must’ve meant that the professor was Russian. the incredibly one-sided logic professor of Robby and Todd. there exists an amount of certainty that cannot be reversed. one that transcends the type discussed in Ilgauskas’s class. and turns the public on its head when Robby and Jenna do not eventually develop any kind of romance and fall away from each other. Ilgauskas is worshipped by Robby and Todd as almost a god-like character. is an incredibly Romantic concept. even when the audience develops a certain prospective reality for the story. Of the many pairs that Robby and Todd consider (among them the aforementioned Loden Coat vs. this time moving into a seemingly romantic interpretation of the interest between Robby and Jenna. Anorak.Robby and Todd. also have no idea what the coat really is. Jenna. as members of this hypothetical audience themselves. only to lead to the two’s inevitable meeting. it may not be fulfilled. and to either person. in order to decipher the identity of Ilgauskas himself. Ilgauskas was once spotted by the pair in a diner reading a book by Dostoevsky. is almost inevitable with most Hollywood productions. no matter the level of adamancy of the audience. This is because modern society is treated so much to this particular situation as a certainty of literature and film. Ilgauskas acts as the singularity which Robby and Todd are never really able to ascertain. automatically creates a situation and world in which the two are together before they even meet for the first time. Mary Frances vs. upon reading Robby’s description of Jenna. The professor represents a version of certainty that is created for the audience in the story through pretzel logic. Both are adamant about their own opinions because they do not want the other option to be true. It is evident that DeLillo has imbued Midnight in Dostoevsky with another historical satirization. DeLillo also caters to a certain amount of certainty by including in his plotline elements of public expectation. who is himself not even a certainty. DeLillo tried to encompass in Ilgauskas. but have already convinced themselves of a side in their dichotomy because of mental subjectivity. and by the pair’s pretzel logic. F vs. “violating the rules. Todd and the other students adhere strictly to a certain code or order in his classroom. leaving the audience yearning for more of her involvement as the one romantic and inevitable character in the story.” as DeLillo puts it. in fact. Not-F).

self-referential. the quest for absolute truth can never be fully ascertained because the public is so adamant about their pre-conceived hypothetical realities. . My recurring motive (to use artistic terminology) was the idea of certainty becoming less and less certain. that of adhering so much to one’s own perspective of certainty that actual certainty is lost. Grade:9/10 I tried to imbue my essay with as much of the illustrated concept as possible. This process is even an example of leaving behind the boundaries set by pure logic and setting forth a new kind of truth. which I believe to be true in the cases I presented. I am including a hypothetical situation of what a modern audience might think about when viewing Robby and Jenna’s relationship. which was prevalent in body paragraphs 1 and 2. 3. Grade (largely) granted: B +  Fun to read. The closer we move as a society to this way of thinking.Ultimately. Another motive was DeLillo’s satirization of historical novel writing. Grade: 8. The essay and rubric are both. Don DeLillo is trying to prove to us that our need for certainty as a society leads to our creation of an uncertain hyperreality through illogical logic. Grade: 9/10 Turning our attention to body paragraph 2 of the essay. when really this interpretation is solely my own. the less chance there is that absolute truth will ever exist in the future. Any outside reference is clear and elaborate. the paragraph discussion Jenna and Robby.5/10 I actually really enjoyed researching the idea that DeLillo somewhat satirized a Shakespearean way of thinking in body paragraph 1. but is created rather by human beings in their own quest for certainty. which was the central goal of this Lit-Crit. In a sense. I used understandable and clear examples to illustrate my interpretation of DeLillo’s story. I have no clue how a modern audience would have actually reacted to Jenna and Robby in the story. one that exists not in reality. we as a society are left to form hypothetical situations as to what that futuristic society would be. It lead me to make interesting connections between history and modern literature. As for a society that lacks absolute truth. I tried to illustrate the same concept that DeLillo denounces. Best represented by the escapades of Robby and Todd. in themselves. The Essay has a clear and logical (pun intended) motive that is recurrent and clear. 2. Nick!  Rubric/Grading Key: 1. an idea which I believe to have been nicely developed throughout the essay.

but in the same way not certain because I describe certainty from my interpretation of reality. I ran spell-check through this essay so that correct spelling could remain a certainty. I realize this and will try to improve upon it in the future. even though my mind wants to adamantly accept it as truth.3/10 One of my most prevalent errors is my overuse of commas as punctual devices in sentences. I awarded myself a B in this category thinking hypothetically of what you would have given me otherwise in a section such as this. As for spelling. It is almost certain that you would’ve included a category like that anyway.Secondly. I wanted to feed into my own certainty by including this section as a reference to DeLillo’s concept of certainty. “Grammar and Spelling choices. Grade: N/A I was not able to give myself a grade on this section. 5. Grade: 8. This concept derives itself from DeLillo’s ultimate thesis that society is driving itself into the ground by losing touch with absolute truth. if you look towards section 4 of the rubric. Phillipson had fun reading the essay. Therefore. I will leave this section of the rubric blank because I chose not to adhere to my version of reality in which you gave me a spectacular grade on this essay. Another recurring concept in my writing is that of redundancy in sentences and in the overall form of paragraphs.” there exists another element of certainty that a category as such would be featured in a common English class atmosphere. 4. Because I know that whatever situation I imagined had the possibility of being both true and false led me to use this section of the rubric to further illustrate my interpretation of DeLillo’s concepts. Grammar and Spelling choices. Mr. as whatever grade I would’ve given myself was directly dependent on my hypothetical reality of you sitting in a chair and reading this Lit-Crit in full. only I am creating a concrete certainty by including the category. Grade: B+/A(Grade is also hypothetical) .