19th Century Russian Literature


Crime and Punishment

Where does one begin? Is the novel a search for motive? What drives Raskolnikov? Is it simple arithmetic-kill the old lady and use the money for good? What is Sonya’s response to economic despair? How close is this to a perfect crime? Does Raskolnikov care too much for others to be a real man of decisive action? What is the meaning of dreams in real life and in literature?   Answer any of mine or raise your own and answer it.


  1. Jennifer Ridder
    April 6th, 2009 | 10:08 am

    Sonya already strikes me an interesting and sympathetic woman. Her drunkard father has left her to be prostitute to help the family survive. Sonya is timid and easily embarrassed, she is described as young, thin, and being of weak disposition but she is simultaneously strong in her devotion to her family and religion. She has sacrificed herself by becoming a prostitute for the sake of her destitute family. This low social stature allows her to be easily abused but she still seems to be of solid moral grounding. Dostoevsky shows her to have great compassion by illustrating that even as her father is dying she manages to find forgiveness and embraces him in her arms until he takes his lasts breaths. Sonya is resolute in maintaining a virtuous family despite the hardships her father has allowed. During this scene of death and forgiveness, Raskolnikov finds an understanding in Sonya as he see that as individuals they have both transcended the line of morality and immorality. Him through murder and her through prostitution. In seeing Sonya’s forgiveness of her father, Raskolnikov finds compassion in himself. If not compassion, he is suddenly desirous to atone for his sins. He offers to help support the Marmeladov family understanding that they are in a time of need. Raskolnikov clearly acts out of an unavoidable sense of guilt. After donating money to the Marmeladovs, he experiences “a feeling akin to that of a dead man upon suddenly receiving his pardon” (188). But Raskolnikov’s rebirth or resurrection does not last. He is “simply catching at a straw,” according to the narrator, and it takes a much deeper repentance for him to experience peace (188). Nonetheless, he appears to have taken the first, minuscule step on the road to reconciliation through the example of the self-sacrificing and forgiving Sonya.

  2. Kara Shurmantine
    April 6th, 2009 | 11:52 am

    What I found most interesting about Dostoevsky’s description of the action before, during, and after the murder scene was the constant mention of fate. Raskolnikov clearly sees himself as destined to commit the act, as if everything leading up to the murders was preordained and predetermined. Within the first chapter, Raskolnikov has “a distant foreboding.” Later, after reading his mother’s letter, he “cries out in a frenzy” that he must “accept fate obediently as it is, once and for all, and stifle everything” in himself. He encounters the tradesman and his wife in the Haymarket, and overhears their arrangements to meet Lizaveta the next day “as if it had been waiting for him there on purpose!” He recalls the conversation between the student and the officer—where he gets the idea to kill the pawnbroker and disseminate her hoard of money to the poor—that was overheard by Raskolnikov “as though there were indeed some predestination, some indication in it….” And as he walks from the Haymarket, the resolution that he will, in fact, murder Alyona Ivanovna the next night, he is “like a man condemned to death…he suddenly felt with his whole being that he no longer had any freedom either of mind or of will, and that everything had been suddenly and finally decided.” This experience is deeply frightening and tormenting for Raskolnikov: to him, personal agency is entirely gone once he has heard this conversation. He simply has no more choice. He feels “as if someone had taken him by the hand and pulled him along irresistibly, blindly, with unnatural force, without objections. As if a piece of his clothing had been caught in the cogs of a machine and he were being dragged into it.” And even just before the murder itself, a cart comes along to conceal him “as if by design”; he convinces the pawnbroker of his innocence by saying something “he had not even intended to say” but which “suddenly got said, just so, by itself”; even the very act of killing her comes from an external strength, an outside force—“his own strength seemed to have no part in it. But the moment he brought the axe down, strength was born in him.”

    In short, I’ve managed to collect a ton of quotes that prove the overwhelming influence of fate—external forces—predetermination—preordainment—God in the text. I think it’s worthwhile to consider what significance this gives to Raskolnikov and his actions, and what Dostoevksy’s intention was to include fate as such a huge player in the action.

  3. Anonymous
    April 6th, 2009 | 12:35 pm

    Answering my own question: Raskolnikov attributes his actions to fate and direction from God, but is he religious?

    We learn in part III that Raskolnikov’s motive for killing is an academic, egotistical one. He thinks that there are two types of people in the world- normal people and exceptional people. And, these exceptional people, he says, are the only kind of people who can shed blood without living a life tormented by grief and regret afterwards. If they are unaffected by this bloodshed, then, they have a right to do it. In part I, Raskolnikov is obsessed with performing the first step that would prove he was an exceptional man—killing the old woman.

    It seems important to him, however, that the actual murder take place not on his own accord (for that, he KNOWS, is sick and “dishonorable.”) Rather, he consistently attempts to attribute his future actions to fate. In his mind, if he were exceptional (a quality that can not be developed but is intrinsic) the murder of the old woman would be predestined, and driven not by despicable raw human urges, but by a higher power.

    Thus, almost to rationalize the killing to himself, he convinces himself that his actions—things he does consciously and by choice—are actually done unconsciously by him and are a sign that the killing is really going to happen.

    He thinks, “he could not for the life of him understand or explain to himself why in his tired, exhausted state, when the best thing he could have done was to take the very shortest and most direct route home, he should have gone home by way of the Haymarket, which did not lie on his route at all.”

    Sometimes his “human” side of him questions god if the killing will really take place. He then attributes his own answer to the question (YES!) to be from god. A higher power, does, however, answer him once—and warns him that in fact he is not capable of these exceptional and he is merely normal.

    This answer is given to him in the form of a dream. Psychologists and Neurologists today know very little about dreams. They know that they are the result of dimethylryptamine in the brain that link semantic memories, but much more is unknown. So much is known today, that the fact the science of dreams is unknown suggests that they may actually be unexplainable. Perhaps, then, they are the epitome of our subconscious, and through our subconscious we find the greatest form of communication with god, or a higher power. Raskolnikov’s dream, then, should be seen as a forewarning from God. He is not an exceptional man; even the brutal murder of a horse affects him immensely!

    After this dream (or message from God) comes to him, he asks the lord to “show me my path, and I will renounce this accursed… dream of mine.” We learn from this that Raskolnikov is NOT a religious man. “The lord” has just shown him his path, yet he ignores it and its messenger. Instead, he renounces the feelings he felt in the dream about the horse, and decides to commit murder—his accursed dream. Thus, he decides to ignore the lord and instead listen to himself—again overestimating his exceptionality and putting himself on an almost god-like level.

  4. Sophie Clarke
    April 6th, 2009 | 12:37 pm

    ooops- that was me (Sophie) above. I obviously have a burning desire to be a nobody. Great.

  5. Ashley Quisol
    April 6th, 2009 | 2:26 pm

    I think that an important issue that is raised throughout the novel is the question of one’s place in society. Rodya, as well as other characters in the book, constantly questions whether or not he should act, what his place is in social matters, and whether or not it is his “business.” The most striking example of this societal struggle is shown in the story for old mare being savagely beaten a murdered. There were two options that the outside parties (the observers) chose to follow: they either joined in the slaughter or turned a blind eye and minded their own business while the owner of the mare reasserted again and again that the mare was “his property” and was therefore no one else’s concern. Only the young child cried and tried to save the beast, but was held back and taught not to interject in other’s affairs.
    This same story plays itself out in a number of examples: Rodya struggles with the decision about whether or not to help the drunk woman, Rodya helps Marmeladov home (the first time), leaves money on the sill, and then regrets it, when he thinks that he hears he landlady being beaten and does nothing, Rodya watching the woman jump off the bridge while others save here etc. These questions of social responsibility (not completely unlike the last episode of Seinfeld) are ones the all humans grapple with and is evident in the story as each character determines what is or isn’t his or her “business” and the whole concept of being your brother’s keeper is prevalent in this story.
    This attachment to others in society in terms, especially in terms of forming relationships, proves to be crucial to one’s perception o life having meaning at all. It is only after Rodya helps Marmeladov (the second time) selflessly, almost as an act of redemption, that he understands that life is worth living and discontinues his ploy to sabotage his freedom and turn himself in. After having seen the death of Marmeladov, the love of his wife and family, and the appreciation of Polenka does Rodya understand the significance of ones relations with the rest of society.
    It is unfortunate that this revelation (that life has worth, if only in the virtue of living) after having taken two lives. I assume that this issue will be dealt with in the following chapters.
    If I had another 300 words I would then address how Dostoevsky addresses the strong (usually women) vs. the weak (usually men), but not based on gender alone, but based on the fact that he can more easily identify with men, and therefore humanizes them more, and since humans are weak, men are weak….according to Dostoevsky….but I won’t get into this now….

  6. Alexandra Boillot
    April 6th, 2009 | 3:40 pm

    Raskolnikov is driven primarily by his own indecision and emotion, especially the emotions others show towards him. His various wanderings, visits to different taverns, and conversations with acquaintances are all characterized by an indecision of what he wants to say or do so that you see him going in all different directions, either literally when walking or figuratively in conversation, many times without ever finding one purpose. However, the major decisions he makes and subsequent actions are finally determined by the emotion he feels in response to others’ reactions to him.
    Although Raskolnikov had a definite plan to kill Alyona Ivanovna, this does not show a definite decision on his part but only strong reflection and scrutiny of the problem. With Raskolnikov, all of his thinking is so roundabout and inconclusive that simply thinking about something does not imply a decision. Emotion brings about conclusions for Raskolnikov, not rationality, which is his biggest problem. Raskolnikov was still going back and forth in his mind all the way to Alyona’s apartment and only decided to go through with it once in the apartment, in the presence of her apparent “[maliciousness]” and “mistrust.” I believe that once Raskolnikov picked up on these negative emotions that were directed at him, he then experienced negative emotions due to his hypersensitive, depressive state, which drove him to kill Alyona.
    The next big decision for Raskolnikov to make was whether to turn himself in or not. Once he is finally well enough to get out of bed, it seems he is going to end up turning himself in as he justifies it by saying that it is better “to live in a square of space” than die. He goes through the same indecisive walk, wandering aimlessly along streets and in and out of taverns until he sees his friend, Marmeladov, who has been run over, and tries to save him. After this incident, Raskolnikov feels fulfilled because he has done a good deed in bringing Marmeladov to his family to die and in giving them some money. Most importantly, Polenka, the youngest daughter, runs after Raskolnikov to show gratitude and even shows Raskolnikov love. After this, Raskolnikov decides not to turn himself in because he is so happy that he can’t imagine ever letting himself live on just one square. Therefore, the positive emotions that Polenka exhibited towards Raskolnikov made him want to live a full life, even though in this case the right thing would have been to turn himself in.

  7. Harry Morgenthau
    April 6th, 2009 | 6:04 pm

    For a number of reasons, I think it is impossible to call Raskolnikov’s murder of the pawnbroker and her sister a perfect crime. From the beginning, Raskolnikov bumbles along, constantly making small mistakes and second guessing himself. He tries to create a fool-proof, calculated plan – the first ingredient in a perfect crime – but it is not nearly as well thought out as he thinks, and it nearly leads him to disaster. When faced with actually conducting the murder, he is successful, but it unnerves him terribly. The sight of the bodies clouds his mind and, so filled with paranoia, he is unable to effectively loot the place. With extraordinary luck he sneaks out, but he has gained nothing of much value – all he is left with is fear.
    The most important – and most elusive – part of determining the perfect crime is in its aftermath; can the criminal live with a free conscience? Is he better off than he was before? The most striking part of Raskolnikov’s crime is how incredibly overridden with guilt he is. The truth of his crime is all over his face, and it has made him physically sick. No crime, no matter how well executed, can be considered perfect if it ends up destroying the perpetrator from inside. Raskolnikov is consumed and blinded by his own fear.
    The events of the murder show that Raskolnikov is clearly no true criminal, and that he does not do it solely out of a desire to wreak havoc. Nor, in fact, does he seem very interested in doing it all. Instead I think he feels compelled to do it by outside forces, things that he cannot control. His life has given him no other choice, and so he has to do it, whether he likes it or not. But while he can take this detached view before the murder, he realizes with painful certainty that he alone is the one killing these women. His hands are the ones that hold the bloody axe. This sudden shift of blame in his mind from situation to self is too much for him, and he implodes.

  8. Patrick O'Neill
    April 6th, 2009 | 8:31 pm

    With my response I would like to address Henry’s question as to whether Raskolnikov is better off than before as a result of the murder. The first 100 pages of the novel I actually found absolutely enthralling but this emotion was soon staved off by the fact that it seemed that Rakolnikov would just turn out to be another whiner wallowing in his own sorrow like the Underground Man (at least according to my view of things). Directly after the murder, Rodya could clearly not be worse off, seeing as both his mental and physical states were all but destroyed. For the longest time, it seemed to me that he could not help himself. There are countless instances in which he convinces himself that he will turn himself in simply to be done with the matter and find closure. However, in each instance he somehow finds a distraction and the resulting indecisiveness only seemed to drive him further into despair.

    I was particularly disgusted with Rodya’s treatment of his friends, especially Razumikhin (whose character seems to resemble more of dog than a person on account of his unconditional loyalty to his friend, which is rather foolish, seeing that the two had not even seen each other for four months beforehand). Not only could he not help himself, as evident in his numerous failed attempts to go to the station and turn himself in, but he was utterly disgusted in the fact that others should try and assist him. A question I would like to ask, though, concerns the motive as to why he was so opposed to the outside help. As is evidenced by his later example of hubris (“Polechka, my name is Rodion; pray for me, too, sometimes: and for the servant of God, Rodion…”) after giving badly needed help to the recently deceased Marmeledov’s family, excess pride may be at the root of the problem. However, this notion does not seem too consistent with the overall tone of the novel or to belong to the usual qualities inherent in Dostoevsky’s protagonists. Instead, I would sooner think the opposite to be true, and that the source of this opposition is instead an irrational product of the extreme self-loathing that the deeply troubled Raskolnikov often exhibits throughout the text.

    I also would like to make another observation on the subject of the pride that Rodion exhibited towards the very end of Part II. During this excerpt, I actually gained more appreciation for Raskolnikov, as this event seemed to produce such a positive effect upon him and actually seemed to bring him to help himself for once. At the same time, though, I am disappointed because I know that this instance will not amount to anything good for him. Instead, this event can only be a harbinger for deeper sorrows to come, seeing that Dostoevsky saw pride as one of the, if not the ultimate sin.

  9. Brett Basarab
    April 6th, 2009 | 8:48 pm

    Raskolnikov’s dreams play a significant role in his actions and feelings throughout the first part of the novel. His dreams highlight his strong yet simple emotions both before and after the murder: utter fear and guilt. Based on the events in Raskolnikov’s dreams, it seems we can piece together his feelings in real life. I’m no psychologist, but from the little I have learned about dreams and based on my own experiences, dreams seem to be a piecing together of events that occurred the previous day or in the recent past. While often distorted and bizarre, my dreams always have clear parallels to real-life events that happened earlier. Dreams are just a chemical process in the brain, and I do not believe they convey any information about the future. While they may be interpreted this way for literary purposes, Raskolnikov’s dream of the brutal horse killing is actually more of a comment on his present state than a look into the future.

    Raskolnikov wakes up distraught and fearful from this dream. His reaction to this dream portrays his hesitation and lack of confidence about his decision to kill the woman. At first, he thought the killing was justified. Now, after seeing the horse killed, he realizes he is about to do the same to the innocent, helpless woman. In the real world, then, hesitation, guilt, and fear plaque him. His dream is simply a compilation of these troubling emotions and his troubled state of mind. “Yesterday, yesterday, when I went to make that….experiment, yesterday I realized completely that I could never bear to do it…Why am I going over it again, then?” (57-58). After the killing, we see Raskolnikov take a turn for the worst. He plunges into a deep illness due to his anguish over the killings. If he was anxious leading up to his crime, he is absolutely distraught in its aftermath. He clearly embodies the state of mind suggested in his dream as he wanders around deliriously with no sense of justice or accomplishment. As Harry said, Raskolnikov is far from committing the perfect crime due to his overwhelming sense of pity and guilt suggested in his dream.

  10. Lisa Eppich
    April 6th, 2009 | 8:58 pm

    Raskolnikov reminds me a lot of the main character of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Despair, where a man named Hermann spends a lot of time trying to convince the reader that he’s found someone who is his exact look-alike (whom he wants to kill to fake his own death) when in reality the man doesn’t look like him at all. Similarly, Raskolnikov spends an awfully long time trying to convince us and himself that his murder was justified because he’s his theoretical exceptional man, yet all of the talk of fate and exceptionalism are merely tools Raskolnikov uses to keep himself from realizing that he’s committed a despicable, unforgivable act. Like we mentioned about the Underground Man, actions speak much louder than words for Dostoevsky. Although we only find out about his theory later, the portrait of Raskolnikov we are first given is not one of a man who wants to commit this crime- he says several times that he can’t believe he’s thinking of this, and that he would never do such a thing. His nervous disposition and the fact that he keeps himself isolated from all company in his tiny room and the fact that the actual execution of his plan was so haphazard is all evidence towards the fact that he is largely just a sick man who perhaps had some theories in his student days but has by and large become so off-kilter that they no longer have any relevance to his decisions except as excuses to cover his shame. His crime is not the “perfect crime” at all not just because it was executed so poorly, especially since he also had to kill Lizaveta, but because if he truly believes in his own philosophies, then Raskolnikov would not even consider the murder a crime at all.

    It’s an interesting point whether Raskolnikov cares too much about others to be a decisive man of action. I think that is too broad of a statement to be true because there are lots of people he just doesn’t like, though he clearly cares for the Marmeladov family because their juxtaposition of goodness (some of them) and destitution seems to call into question his own worth and salvation. One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Raskolnikov is talking to Polina and asks her to pray for him, later thinking that if such a girl could pray for someone like him, then maybe he can still be saved. It might be better to say that Raskolnikov cares too much about himself to be a decisive man. To decide is to accept guilt for his crimes, and deep down he knows he is not the exceptional man.

  11. Ben Tabb
    April 6th, 2009 | 9:10 pm

    In my mind, Raskolnikov’s emotions keep him from becoming a real man of action, even though his intelligence should allow him such a role. What I find particularly unique about Raskolnikov is that unlike most conflicted people, who feel urges to do bad things, but resist because when they think about it, logic should indicate that it’s not in their best interest. Raskolnikov, on the other hand, is naturally inclined towards doing good things, but uses logic to conclude that he should be more selfish and criminal.

    We first see this when he gives money to Marmeladov. His instinct, which we can assume to be ruled by his conscience is to give Marmeladov the money, a very selfless act, especially considering his current economic situation. When he then considers the act, though, he regrets it, wishing he could go back and retrieve the money he gave. A similar situation occurs when he protects the drunk woman from the suspicious man. At the time he knows it’s the right thing to do, and so he does; he is innately kind and compassionate. It is not until he really thinks that he regrets this decision, for once again he has given away money when he has so little, and he almost got himself in trouble. It’s rare to see a person’s deep thoughts conflict with an action of such kindness; usually when one’s reflections conflict with an impulsive action, it is because the action is selfish or mean.

    This same inner conflict returns in his murder of Ivanovna. It is clear that his conscience tells him such an action is wrong. He is sick before the murder for thinking about it, only to get well once again when he removes the thought from his mind. After the murder, he falls ill once again. We can see that this is his subconscious telling him that it was the wrong decision, since Zosimov tells us it is all in his head. Deep-down he did not want to do it. Once again however, his intelligence gets the better of his conscience. Upon reflection of the crime he decides that there is no logical reason not to do it. He would not be guilty of killing anything more than a “louse,” and he could use the money for good. Furthermore, he is too clever to get caught, and the fates clearly want him to take this path. After thinking hard about it, he uses his logic to justify something that he really is not emotionally capable. Raskolnikov is clearly very intelligent, but what keeps him from being an extraordinary man are his emotions that limit him.

  12. Matthew Lazarus
    April 6th, 2009 | 9:25 pm

    Without having read the book yet, I’d like to take a crack at a few of those questions. Crime and Punishment is really a question of the divine comedie. It takes a character from Dostoevsky’s other great text, the underground man, and puts him into real life, just as joyce took odysseus, played with him a little bit in portrait, and expanded him in ulysses. Raskolnikov is the dismembered, dismayed, and disquieted underground man, and dostoevsky just plops him into the world. crime and punishment are really the two eternal vices of mankind.

  13. Catherine Ahearn
    April 6th, 2009 | 9:36 pm

    I could not help but constantly compare Raskolnikov to the UM as I read the first two parts of the novel. The two men are very similar, however, I found Raskolnikov to be more liberated in that he does not only think, but act as a result of his thoughts. His motives are unclear to the reader but I believe they will emerge as we get a better sense of Raskolnikov’s character. In other words, the novel is not a search for motive, but an explanation of it. I found it difficult to figure what drives Raskolnikov. My best guess is purpose. The quote that everyman needs somewhere to go resounds in the novel both with the reader and with Raskolnikov. I think it is entirely possible that the murder becomes an end for Raskolnikov’s efforts and nothing more. Although he does mention the role of fate in the murder, I do not think fate is what drives Raskolnikov forward. If anything, fate is like an enabler for Raskolnikov; he comes across the information necessary to complete the murder entirely out of “fate” but it is not fate that drives him to make 1+1=2.
    Raskolnikov’s crime would be perfect if it were not for his own actions afterward. It’s important to note that his crime is perfect entirely by chance (or fate as some may put it) and it is by no fault or great planning of his own that the murder goes so well (if you could say that about a murder). After the murder is committed the reader is always unsure of whether or not Raskolnikov is going to give himself away. He is an unstable character who does not seem able to emotionally, physically, and mentally support his actions. The best manifestation of this is his illness and delirium. If Raskolnikov cared to much for others to be a real man of decisive action, he wouldn’t have committed the murder.

  14. Kaylen Baker
    April 6th, 2009 | 9:46 pm

    On the Perfect Crime and Fate

    I agree with Harry that Raskolnikov has not accomplished the “Perfect Crime,” in the least. He begins with some luck, but once he’s certain Alyona’s dead, he loses his practicality, his sense of timing, even his objective to steal her wealth. Interestingly, beforehand he wonders why most criminals are discovered and decides, “almost any criminal experiences at the moment of the crime a sort of failure of will and reason, which, on the contrary, are replaced by a phenomenal, childish thoughtlessness.” But this won’t happen to him because, “what he had plotted — was ‘not a crime.’”

    Yet Raskolnikov catches this “darkening of reason” and “disease” he’s so aware of. Although it begins directly after he crosses the line between fate and his own hands (as Kara mentions), he completely will and reason when he commits the second murder, which is surely a real crime in his mind. Lisaveta is a poor, overworked, Cinderella figure – if Cinderella was ever forced to whore with her customers. (Almost every girl here must sell her body even if she’s not a certified prostitute. Russians seem to find pity in this more than sin, I think). The abuse she suffers is even one of Raskilnikov’s justifications for killing Alyona. But once he fears, he can’t control his actions, he must Get Out.

    So, was it Raskolnikov’s fate to lose his head along with his victims, because he prophesized it beforehand? By foreshadowing the worst outcome, did he subject himself to it unintentionally? Harry says he was “overridden with guilt” afterwards, but I disagree. Not once so far have I seen Raskolnikov think of the two woman and feel remorse. He is overridden with Fear, because he knows he has crossed some moral and social boundary. He feels naked and exposed as if his crime is written on his flesh, and he almost turns himself in just to escape his creepy-crawly nervosa.

    Although I’m sure he will be caught, perhaps so far Raskolnikov actually has accidentally committed a perfect crime – his wild performance afterwards, his real sickness, his luck, so far all have helped him evade detection. But his mind now will give him away…

  15. Zachary Harris
    April 6th, 2009 | 10:16 pm

    I found a lot of similarities between Sonya and Dunya in the way they deal with economic and personal problems, and see them in clear contrast to Raskolnikov and Marmeladov, those whom they are trying to help.

    Sonya sees her family in horrible poverty, and because of this she decides to work as a prostitute to allow her family to survive. While she may be ashamed of her behavior (this isn’t made totally clear), she does not let this prevent her from doing what she needs to to allow her family to survive, which is clearly more important than appearances and social respectability.

    Dunya also realizes that her family is in dire need of money, and thus decides to marry a man that she does not love. She seems to recognize that although this may not be a pleasant experience, it must be done because it is the only way to ensure that her brother and mother are provided for properly which is the most important thing.

    Marmeladov and Raskolnikov, on the other hand, are irrational in their coping with their poverty. Marmeladov is so ashamed that he cannot provide for his family that he breaks down completely. Instead of keeping a calm disposition when he loses his job and attempting to earn an income any way he can, he indulges completely in his alcohol addiction which further worsens his family’s living conditions. He forces his daughter into prostitution which further shames him and drives him to drink even more to escape his troubles.

    Raskolnikov is also too driven by pride to act rationally when he finds out that his sister is getting married. He knows that he and his family are short on money and that they would all be better off financially if his sister does marry a rich man, but is completely offended by the concept that his sister is doing something against her will in to garner the financial security that he is incapable of attaining on his own. In order to prevent his sister from doing this he decides to murder and rob to provide himself and his family with money, which is totally irrational behavior.

    It seems to me that that these two men are completely incapable of successfully dealing with damaged pride, while these women show that they can much more easily adapt to difficult situations.

  16. Elise Hanks
    April 6th, 2009 | 10:43 pm

    I am stuck by the following question:

    Does the disease generate the crime or is it that the crime is followed by something akin to disease?

    What is more sinister- that Rodya’s soul or character was riddled with some sort of disease- plagued by his own paralyzation between his self agency and belief in fate, or that having carried out a double murder he is driven to new lows, despite his hypersensitivy which he had not previously experienced?

    Why did Rodya comit the crime? Was it something inherent within him? Was he born to commit this crime- as in no matter who he turned out to be, he would kill the two women? Or did circumstance doom him to commit a crime out of sheer desperation? Or, perhaps his fate was inescapable simply because “a piece of his clothing had been caught in the cogs of a machine” and he was “dragged into it” (170)?

    Furthermore- does it matter why Rodya killed? If we group all the above questions under the larger question of was it fate, it is easier to see if it matters if fate were involved. Does Dostoevsky want us to focus on what made Rodya kill? I would say, no, he does not.

    I think that Dostoevsky is much more interested in the change within Rodya that occurs after he kills the two women. We see that before the double murder even if he has a conviction, more often then not he will “damn it all to hell” and decide that it doesn’t actually matter and convince himself he shouldn’t care because what will be will be (example, the incident with the drunk girl, the dandy, and the officer). I think that Dostoevsky wants us to see a man who is desperate and who doesn’t understand or perhaps refuses to be an accomplice to his own agency- and it is because he truly feels that it is beyond him (not because he is too lazy to assume responsibility, etc).

    After Rodya kills the sisters, for the first time he has options. The fact that he has condemned himself to death with his actions has, essentially, freed him. He is only free in death. Once he made himself deserving of punishment to the fullest extent of the law, he had nothing else to lose and was only in a position to gain. The psychology of ending two lives with his own hands and having that be what restarts his life- what makes him free and in a sense untouchable- is something I think Dostoevsky will continue to help us explore throughout the rest of the novel.

  17. Casey Mahoney
    April 6th, 2009 | 11:22 pm

    Having read this novel three times before, I really made an effort to read it anew looking for something new to find in it. What struck me most while reading parts I and II was the unclarity with which we are really able to discern what Raskolnikov values most.

    In his words and thoughts, Raskolnikov clearly puts intellect and reason on a pedestal, claiming that his trials and experiments of his action (“crime” as society would have it) will show his capacity to do something great. In reality, though, chance and “good” fortune guide him through his crime and its consequence, an unforeseen circumstance to which he can only reply with cryptic, strange and twisted laughs and grimaces. In one such instance in Book II, Chapter I, he responds to the simple success of “self-preservation” with a relief the narrator compares to an “animal joy.” Further, on multiple occasions, the all-knowing narrator tells us “If someone had spoken with him” at such-and-such instance, he would have [insert explicative/violence here] to them–comparing our “hero” to an animal about ready to uncontrollably rip away from his leash.

    Undoubtedly, Raskolnikov is not in command of his ability to clearly intellect or even regulate his emotion; he is barely getting by medically, barely living, let alone achieving some higher human purpose. In his delirium (which I’d like to think Dostoevsky sees as first intellectual and then as a sort of somatic-psychological illness, a “pathetic fallacy” if you will), he continues to attempt to trick himself into believing he is reaching rational conclusions. This intellectual (in the 1860s-fashionable-among-youthful-students sense of the word) fanaticism is clearly that to which Raskolnikov will sacrifice nothing, that is, what he values most–in his head. His actions that most remind us of the Underground Man and Bazarov are the ones that corroborate these values most.

    Originally, what complicated my evaluation of Raskolnikov’s intellectualism most, however, was not the fact that fortune ends up playing into his scheme more than he had planned; for, really, coincidence is just an inextricable fact of life, and as I read on, I found that Raskolnikov is not dogmatic enough a believer in Cherneshevsky or Bentham to propose there is a final formula that describes all human life. Instead, Raskolnikov’s reactionary, totally free-of-rationalization, thoughtless moments of what seems to be true altruism or selflessness (calling the policeman to protect the drunk rape victim, caring for the maimed Marmeladov, paying for his funeral) are what confuse my analysis of Raskolnikov’s self-proclaimed value of utilitarian intellect. Indeed, the ensuing moments of ambivalence, regret of his kindness, etc. mark his metacognition of his un-premeditated (and ‘thus’? good) deeds and give the reader reason to believe in him as his old intellectual self. Yet, in his most physically and thus intellectually unconscious and delirious moments (e.g. his outrageous desires to confess his crime while ill, his dreams of the pity he professes to his father for the abused horse while sleeping) reveal underneath all that something I want to call a fundamentally good consciousness (which I use in the Russian sense, as it is synonymous with “conscience”).

    You say, “But, he killed a guy–well, a woman, well, two…” to which I respond, “Obviously.” However, I would like to propose that we, for just a portion of our reading, attempt to put ourselves in the shoes of the over-intellectualizing (à la U-Man) criminal whose thought-into-action experiment/hypothesis was disproved and whose battle with his conscience afterwards will show us one of Dostoevsky’s aims to “show the psychological aspect of crime.”

  18. Stewart Moore
    April 6th, 2009 | 11:32 pm

    I don’t think Rodya’s original intention was to be a Robin Hood figure (I don’t think Robin Hood killed). No, but I never got the idea that he wanted to use his stolen money for the good of others. It seemed to me he just needed some cold cash, so he robbed a pawn-shop-type-store and killed the owners. But I did feel the book hinted that Rodya thought the main woman was a vile creature, and society gained from her death.

    Quite honestly the perfect crime or the perfect murder is much easier than people think. Having no criminal record, no documented fingerprints or DNA, I could very easily hop in a car, drive to a city, murder several people in one night, return to me home, and absolutely no one would ever find out unless I told them. Simply put, as great as forensics is they wouldn’t be able to catch such a random murder like that. However Rodya’s (I’m just going to use his shortest name) is far from perfect; he is just granted extraordinary coincidences that always work in his favor. This became such a theme in the first two sections that I was no longer pleased when Rodya kept getting away or always received a nice comfy couch from fate. It seems he is almost a figure blessed by God to do whatever he pleases, but no matter what he cannot get caught by the authorities. This might be the point though: although he is not able to be apprehended by the police, he is subject to his own guilt and his own tortures.

    Having been given the knowledge of dreams by Freud, essentially any dream means, in one way or another, that I want to have sex with my mom, obviously. I don’t think we can necessarily control what we dream, so actual dreams, in my opinion are a) messages and visions given by God or a higher power or b) an expansion of something we were thinking about earlier. I’ve also heard dreams are secret desires, but I’ve had a dream were I fought the Green M&M in the laundry room, and I don’t think that is a secret desire of mine. In literature, since the dream is a construct of an author, it probably has large significance. Although the author could put in, for kicks and giggles, a random dream that has no context to the story. Generally, dreams in literature have some significance of foreshadowing the later events of the story.

  19. Hannah Wilson
    April 7th, 2009 | 12:28 am

    Where to begin with Crime and Punishment?

    What I find so captivating thus far is Dostoevsky’s ability to incorporate so many complex and truly human themes into a single novel. The way the novel is set up, we, as readers, are intrigued by Raskolnikov’s motives, his sickness, the influence of women on his condition, social standing and of course religion. I am constantly pleasantly surprised by the images and description of Raskolnikov’s condition. What I find shocking is how frequently I sympathize with Raskolnikov.

    Raskolnikov clearly knew what he was doing, planned it, and executed it, but there seems to be a sense of fatality and an outside cause that he has no control over. However, he believes that he is fully in-control of his life. While we do not struggle with murder, our conscious and extreme poverty, every day we go through this same struggle. So far we have not really seen what other forces control his actions, we can only speculate.

    Most of us, like the Underground Man, believe that we are in control of our lives, but the story of Raskolnikov reminds us otherwise. As we discussed Notes from the Underground a common theme that arose was the place of intellectualism in happiness and mental health. Here we can see that Raskolnikov, who frequently references his status not as a student but as a “former student,” surfers from the same sickness as the Underground man. While Dostoevsky did not provide us with a “cure” to this sickness in Notes his answer in C&P is far from clear (granted we have only read the first two parts).

    His lucid moments are often inspired by interactions with women, namely Dunya, his mother and Sonya. The letter from his mother causes him to focus on something other than his sickness. He becomes very very angry at their future, causing him to act more like a human than ever before. Sonya shows him compassion and her forgiving heart teaches Raskolnikov that perhaps empathy for others can in fact bring you happiness.

    Now the question remains, can Raskolnikov, knowing what he knows now, truly change his future, or are we are subject to judgment based upon everything we have ever done?

  20. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 7th, 2009 | 1:29 am

    Something that really struck me is this idea of the novel being a search for a motive. Raskolnikov said he believed in coincidences, and it seemed to me as if Raskolnikov took these coincidences as motives for his crime. When he explains all of these coincidences (or, rather, Dostoevsky describes them), he lays it out in a way that indicates that he believes he is predestined to commit this crime. After all, if he hadn’t, why would he have overheard the student and the officer talking about how the old pawnbroker would be better off dead? Or, better yet, why would someone have told him of the pawnbroker in the first place? Furthermore, he overhears Lizaveta talking to someone and finds out when she’ll be out of the apartment. He easily finds an axe and has no problem putting it back. When describing each of these situations, Dostoevsky writes it as if Raskolnikov had no choice but to commit this crime-he was continually being faced with situations and coincidences that drove him to fulfill this destiny the universe provided him. In addition, when committing the crime, there were times when his judgment should have been clouded but he was able to reason clearly. For example, he realized that only the latch of the apartment door was closed, and not actually the lock (meaning the two men outside of the door knew that someone was in there). Though this could have been a very bad situation for Raskolnikov, he was able to think on his feet and hide in the open apartment downstairs while the other two men passed him.

    On another note, I think Sophie brought up a great question. Raskolnikov does believe that he’s been “destined” to commit this crime, but that doesn’t necessarily make him religious. It’ll be interesting to see this play out in the rest of the book.

  21. Adam Levine
    April 7th, 2009 | 7:52 am

    Like Brett, I am also interested in the significance of dreams during real life and in literature. When I encountered Sigmund Freud’s work for the first time last year, I became immediately engaged in his theories of dreams and psychoanalysis. In fact, one of the points that Brett makes is a very Freudian principle: “…dreams seem to be a piecing together of events that occurred the previous day or in the recent past.” I agree with this speculation from experience: sometimes my dreams have strange or mystical ways of incorporating and intertwining thoughts, desires, and actions that I am familiar with from my consciousness and real life. By viewing Raskolnikov’s dreams as reflective of events occurring in the novel, Brett and I can be deemed Freudian readers of literature.

    Yet is Raskolnikov a Freudian thinker? When Brett connects the dream of the horse’s murder to the guilt that the protagonist feels at having murdered Alyona Ivanovna, he reveals Raskolnikov’s instinct to immediately react to the visions and fear the meaning of such overwhelming similarities between his dream and reality. In fact, in Part II, when Raskolnikov sees Ilya Petrovich beating his landlady, he believes the attack is real: “In the dark of evening he was jolted back to consciousness by terrible shouting” (115). At the end of the chapter, Nastasya asserts that no such atrocity happened, and for the protagonist, “[t]hen came unconsciousness” (117). Raskolnikov’s inability to distinguish between reality and dreams shows that his gut reaction to visualizations is to “believe what he sees,” credit them, and let them influence his decisions and perspective. The protagonist’s confusion between real events and dreamed events is symbolic of the importance with which he holds both, and the fact that he defends his belief to Nastasya confirms this.

    However, Freud would tell Raskolnikov that he is interpreting his dreams inaccurately. According to the text of the psychoanalyst himself, what seems to be most crucial about a dream is in fact trivial, and what appears trivial within a dream is in fact crucial. Thus, Freud would disapprove of Raskolnikov’s immediate assumption that the horse-killing or landlady-beating were simply allusions to his own murder, since those are the significances of the dreams on the surface. While Freud would undoubtedly trace the sin of reality to the sin within the dreams, he would claim that the more important message or thought is conveyed through something that does not seem particularly vital. Perhaps the reactions of the people in his dreams witnessing the violent actions are the central concerns of his unconsciousness, and this would give weight to their cries and dialogue as well as how Raskolnikov views others, views reception and public relations, and numerous other questions. To be the Freudian reader, one must evaluate dreams in literature and in real life using the multiple principles that the famous thinker outlined in his work.

  22. Susanna Merrill
    April 7th, 2009 | 8:33 am

    Raskolnikov does seem to care too much for others to be a real man of decisive action. A letter from his mother, even unopened, paralyzes him, he gets sucked into conversation with the drunken Marmelodov, he gives Marmelodov’s family money he badly needed himself, he ends up going to M’s funeral, he cares very much about a beaten horse: what is important in these instances is not so much his feeling of human empathy, but his reflexive action. He listens to Marmelodov even after he gets bored with him, goes home with him, gives his family money almost involuntarily and reflexively, etc. He has great trouble acting against his feeling of empathy, and it throws off his plans.
    Obviously, Raskolnikov is capable of resolving to act, deliberately and cruelly. But the resolution costs him great energy, makes him very nervous (as is seen in his panic over his hat being noticed in the first few pages), and is susceptible to innumerable second thoughts. His reflexive action will always involve care for others.
    What somewhat upsets this theory is the fact that Raskolnikov kills Lizaveta. He was not stopped by pity for this inoffensive woman, but brutally murdered her. I’m not sure what my answer is to this difficulty: it indicates that Raskolnikov’s reflexive action can be murderous as well as compassionate. To be honest, the murder of Lizaveta is what has always confused me most about this book. Killing Lizaveta seems much worse to me than killing the old woman, and yet everyone- Raskolnikov himself, the police, Dostoyevsky, seems focused on the old woman, and Lizaveta is just an afterthought.

  23. Alicia Wright
    April 7th, 2009 | 10:06 am

    It seems to me that Raskolnikov is a man whose identity is wavering, believing that a man must be one way or the another, or at least, been told that the universe is set up in a dialectical framework. This universe of mystery, an individual man, is a microcosm. This novel cries out, in a completely true tone, for a motive in all things. This is not just a question ballooning into generality. Motives are crucial to all actions taken and which actions are not: the unspoken, unconscious and often unperceived. This is where dreams come into play, but that isn’t my focus here…so many of what I would argue are Raskol’s moments of clarity are spoken aloud, “involuntarily”. Does this point to a hyper-conscious unconscious, an elevation in the quest to approach some sinister truth, or, since this is a dialectical universe, some magnanimous God (as echoed in Dunya?)

    I am struck by Raskolnikov’s youthfulness, and that said, I don’t think he is as unhinged as Dostoevsky construes him to be (I also do not intend to trivialize him). Whatever Dostoevsky is doing here, (and that I am not sure of, and don’t think I ever will be), he is doing more than just detailing the pitfalls of the “monomaniac” (though in a religious context that takes an intriguing turn). I am also interested in the use of the word “tormented” in it’s own logical emotional progression. It occurs fairly frequently, especially when anything of relative importance occurs. There is also the sense, as someone alluded to in a previous post, that Raskol. lives in a predestined world, or that the hand of God or a controlling force, what have you, mandates his actions. For what cause, then, is Raskol. tormented? By the tension of individual determination versus ‘God’s plan’ (ie who’s in control?) or that he is driven to [ir]rational action by the hand of God? Can that even be? Since I haven’t finished the book I think it would be premature of me to come to an uninformed conclusion, but all these ‘transient nodes of thought’ will be ‘careening through a cosmic vapor of invention’. That quote did not come from Dostoevsky…

  24. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 7th, 2009 | 10:58 am

    Raskolnikov is one of the most complex, interesting, beautiful, and layered characters we have read so far. He constantly tries to convince himself, and us, that his actions were not evil, because of his own peculiar philosophy. But we’re left thinking “does he buy it himself?” It’s not clear! Somehow, we’ve been led not only to recognize the split between author and narrator, but also between audience and reader. Raskolnikov’s audience is himself; we happen to be lucky enough to be listening in. Dostoevsky has executed this marvelously.

    We see the guilt creeping in early in this story. Raskolnikov is hidden in his hole, seemingly worried that he may be caught. But then nightmares begin, and for some reason he can’t help but visit the magistrate under the ridiculous pretenses of getting a watch back.

    The way I see it, Raskolnikov, no matter how convinced he might have been that he was free of conventional morality, can’t help but recognize that He Killed Somebody. Again, this could be a commentary on the inescapability of “conventional morality,” that no matter how hard we think we are free of this power structure, our freedom is an illusion, and we can’t escape these bounds, no matter how artificial. On the other hand, I think it’s more akin to a statement on the presence of an absolute right and wrong. You and I and Raskolnikov can fool ourselves all we want, but there are lines that it is Wrong, in the most sacred, ineffable sense of the word, to cross. For example, Don’t Kill. The guilt is crippling–the fever, fainting, nightmares, visits that seem to indicate Raskolnikov is begging to be caught–all of these are signs that he recognizes what he has done is wrong. Because in the end, he did it for money, not principle, and he gives a damn about what the world is like without the pawnbroker.

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