19th Century Russian Literature


Crime and Slime

The novel which begins with a simple murder turns into a melting pot of sub-plots: Sonya and redemption, Dunya and female courage, Svidrigailov and suicide, Porfiry and criminal investigation, Luzhin and exploitation, and even poor Raskolnikov and his search for meaning. So pick a plot and share your thoughts.


  1. Sophie Clarke
    April 13th, 2009 | 8:27 am

    I have to admit that the theory of the extraordinary man was once a compelling one to me. Everyone wants to be powerful- we all wanted to be president of the United States when we were little. So, as I was reading Crime and Punishment, and particularly the section in which Raskolnikov explains his theory, I was mentally nodding my head in agreement. I liked the idea that there were some people in the world who had the right and sometimes obligation to act completely by their own wishes and that the results of their actions, no matter how terrible, could be looked over for the sake of the ‘new word.’
    And, with a little tweaking, I turned this into a theory I really liked. Couldn’t I, without any guilt, kill three pirates if it meant the freedom of a one man? And, isn’t that what Raskolnikov was doing- killing one louse for the freedom of Lizaveta?
    After reading parts 4-6, however, I can no longer justify Raskolnikov’s theory. Because, isn’t Svidrigailov the epitome of the extraordinary man? He lives entirely for himself and acts on whims to satisfy current desires. One day he will kill his servant, and the next he will give hundreds of rubles to the poor. Like the extraordinary man, Svidrigailov seems above human law- he is never caught for his crimes/ He also seems to be above mental punishment- he feels no moral responsibility and thus feels no remorse for his crimes.
    In my last post, I argued that Raskolnikov was in fact an extraordinary man. I retract this claim. In part 4, Svidrigailov says to Raskolnikov, “Didn’t I say there was something in common between us? Wasn’t I right in saying we were birds of a feather?” Raskolnikov, rightly, rejects this. He is convinced that unlike Svidrigailov’s crimes, his crimes have moral purposes. As we read part 4-6, however, we see Raskolnikov come to terms with the fact that his ideal, extraordinary man is Svidrigailov, and thus he begins to question his desire to be extraordinary.
    And, as the repulsiveness of Svidrigailov makes Raskolnikov question the theory of the extraordinary man, it makes me question my desire to be extraordinary.

  2. Sophie Clarke
    April 13th, 2009 | 8:28 am

    sorry the post above is impossible to read:

    I have to admit that the theory of the extraordinary man was once a compelling one to me. Everyone wants to be powerful- we all wanted to be president of the United States when we were little. So, as I was reading Crime and Punishment, and particularly the section in which Raskolnikov explains his theory, I was mentally nodding my head in agreement. I liked the idea that there were some people in the world who had the right and sometimes obligation to act completely by their own wishes and that the results of their actions, no matter how terrible, could be looked over for the sake of the ‘new word.’

    And, with a little tweaking, I turned this into a theory I really liked. Couldn’t I, without any guilt, kill three pirates if it meant the freedom of a one man? And, isn’t that what Raskolnikov was doing- killing one louse for the freedom of Lizaveta?

    After reading parts 4-6, however, I can no longer justify Raskolnikov’s theory. Because, isn’t Svidrigailov the epitome of the extraordinary man? He lives entirely for himself and acts on whims to satisfy current desires. One day he will kill his servant, and the next he will give hundreds of rubles to the poor. Like the extraordinary man, Svidrigailov seems above human law- he is never caught for his crimes/ He also seems to be above mental punishment- he feels no moral responsibility and thus feels no remorse for his crimes.

    In my last post, I argued that Raskolnikov was in fact an extraordinary man. I retract this claim. In part 4, Svidrigailov says to Raskolnikov, “Didn’t I say there was something in common between us? Wasn’t I right in saying we were birds of a feather?” Raskolnikov, rightly, rejects this. He is convinced that unlike Svidrigailov’s crimes, his crimes have moral purposes. As we read part 4-6, however, we see Raskolnikov come to terms with the fact that his ideal, extraordinary man is Svidrigailov, and thus he begins to question his desire to be extraordinary.

    And, as the repulsiveness of Svidrigailov makes Raskolnikov question the theory of the extraordinary man, it makes me question my desire to be extraordinary.

  3. Lisa Eppich
    April 13th, 2009 | 11:51 am

    She might not be the most important character in the book, but I keep finding myself drawn to Katerina Ivanovna’s plot. Although we can’t really call any of the women in this work “realistic,” Katerina Ivanovna illustrates a very real and very tragic part of Russian society. The narrator in the book constantly paints her as someone who only exists to try and pretend that she’s “above” poverty. I didn’t really see this as the case at all: sure, she’s far from a saint, but it’s unrealistic to expect everyone who lives like she does to act like Sonya. Katerina Ivanovna may have taken questionable actions, but who is anybody to judge her if we haven’t been in her situation?

    I think we can safely assume that the narrator is a male, and at the beginning of the memorial meal scene he goes over as to why Katerina Ivanovna would hold such an elaborate event, calling it a “poor man’s pride” to go about pretending like everything is normal just so other people don’t judge them. But how can we trust a man’s perspective to understand what Katerina Ivanovna is really thinking, and even still, how dare they pass judgment when they can’t fully understand what a woman has to go through in life? The narrator seems to imply that when one hits rock bottom, one should just accept it in every respect and revel in squalor. I’m not trying to be a feminist or anything here, and I don’t doubt that Katerina Ivanovna isn’t more than a little upset about her loss in status, yet I don’t think we can sit around and let a male narrator judge her as a stupid woman who can’t accept her place in life, because the narrator is confusing “pride” with “dignity.” Pride is the foolish thing get men into stupid situations like trying to be Napoleon which women like Sonya have to help clean up. Dignity is trying to scrape together some semblance of normalcy with whatever means you have because one is unwilling to relinquish their humanity, and thus I don’t think we can accept the portrait of Katerina Ivanovna as another stereotypical shrew of a wife, because as Marmeladov says, “Do you understand…what it means when there is no longer anywhere to go” (17). We look at Dunya as the one with “female courage”, yet even she could not have escaped Luzhin’s proposal if Marfa Petrovna’s money hadn’t fallen in her lap. Katerina Ivanovna is a real portrait of courage: yes, she did some questionable things with her children and is embittered in remembering the woman she used to be, but we cannot judge her for these “faults” and instead look at her as someone who became torn apart in trying to do the best she could with what little she had in her refusal to be looked at as anything other than another human being.

  4. Ashley Quisol
    April 13th, 2009 | 4:07 pm

    I love Dounia. She’s great. She is the first real female that we have encountered in our assigned literature, and I find her to be the most intriguing of all of the characters. But, I don’t think her plot is simply one of female courage. All of Dounya’s actions can be characterized as noble, and to a greater extent, reasonable. Her first honorable act was to deny Svidrigailov’s advances, and then remain silent while her name is being smeared around town. Though the second part of this statement seems to be weak and ignorant, we see later that her silence in this matter is rewarded when the truth comes to light, because not only was she wronged by Svidrigailov, but she had also accepted this burden silently in order not to make a disturbance to cause further dishonor to her family.
    Her second decision to marry Luzhin was one of practicality: the marriage would offer security for every member of her family during a time of economic instability. Though this was not an arrangement made out of love for her future spouse, it was made out of love for her family, a feat that is equally admirable. Though this marriage was a type of self-sacrifice, Douyna had the sense and honor to pull out of the arrangement once Luzhin’s true nature came to light. A final action that distinguished Dounya’s sense was her taking to Razumihn, especially after his day dreaming about a printing press. She was attracted to him only when he stimulated her intellectually. \Dounya’s role in terms of her mother is a leader, and it is apparent that she is the foundation upon which the family rests.
    On top of her reasonability and honor, Dounya also retains intuition (especially in terms of understanding her brother) and beauty, two traditionally feminine characterastics. I admire that Dostevsky had the insight to attribute many male attributes of that time to a women while retaining her female qualities as well. It is often the case that people (not just 19th century authors) feel the need to force a character to one gender normative side or another, while it is evident with the example of Dounya that a character can break from these models and still be believable.

    P.S. Sophie, pull yourself together…you’re a little schizo when you post….at least you remembered to identify yourself this time

  5. Kara Shurmantine
    April 13th, 2009 | 4:26 pm

    We’ve talked in class about how raskolnik means “schismatic,” from the root raskolot, “to split”—Raskolnikov’s very name conveys his schismatic, polarized personality composed seemingly of two opposed, warring sides that struggle constantly to maintain control over him. In Parts V and VI, near the end of the novel, the deep split between Raskolnikov’s two personalities shines through, particularly during his conversation with Sonya in Part V where he confesses to the murders. Raskolnikov’s two sides visibly struggle here as he’s wracked with utter confusion, powerless against his own inner turmoil.

    (Now that’s an interesting word, “powerless,” and it appears no less than ten times, in various forms, during Raskolnikov and Sonya’s conversation alone. Why so “powerless”? Could it be that an external force has predetermined their words and actions so that they have absolutely no control? Could at be that they are simply dragged into the cogs of a machine, as it were, pawns in a cosmically prearranged world?)

    Anyway, I read this conversation between Raskolnikov and Sonya very carefully and the changes that take place in Raskolnikov, both outwardly through his actions and inwardly through his thoughts, are striking. He’s like a schizophrenic person being pulled in two opposite directions by two opposite forces. He begins the conversation with his old standby: being heartlessly cruel to Sonya. But, after a bit of this, this side of him begins to lose its force; he laughs, but “somehow with a strain,” and “it seemed he was beginning to get confused.” During the next page, he switches attitudes twice: first speaking “softly” and “seeking forgiveness” in gentle tones, and then suddenly being filled with a “corrosive hatred for Sonya.” It would be pointless to detail every switch, because there are surely a dozen of them during the conversation. But basically he goes from being meek, innocent, loving, and emotional to being the writer of the “extraordinary man” article: spiteful, arrogant, cynical, hateful, and cruel. The best example of this is on p. 412 in the Pevear and Volkhonsky version. First “a feeling long unfamiliar to him”—love and compassion, I could guess—“flooded his soul and softened it all at once,” and he even cries; but directly after that, just a paragraph down, he “suddenly” flinches and produces a “hateful and almost arrogant smile.”

    The nice, good, compassionate, loving Raskolnikov is there, but by the end of the conversation and, indeed, the end of Part VI this Raskolnikov has definitely not won. Though he does the right thing and turns himself in, the hateful, spiteful side of him questions this decision until the very end. At the end of the sixth part, the schizophrenic fight seems to be over, and the bad side seems to have won.

  6. Elise Hanks
    April 13th, 2009 | 7:04 pm

    Alright, this is not quite a sub-plot but I think it is important to see how Dostoevsky threads his characters together through religion and clothing.

    Many great, canonical works have used clothing as symbolism from the Bible (Joseph’s coat) to Homer (Penelope’s shroud) and we see Dostoevsky use clothing as an inherent depiction of the characters’ spiritual states. Dostoevsky uses the choice of clothing and dress to mirror the choices of redemption, belief, refutation, and salvation.

    The idea of charity plays an enormous role in the novel. Charity translates to a love of mankind and in the novel is associated with clothing through darning, mending, washing, and giving clothing to others. We see Katarina do this for her children as a literal labor of love. Razumikhin presents Raskolnikov with redemption with clean, presentable clothing (which foreshadows Rodya’s accepting of love and Christ in the epilogue). We even see Lizaveta in terms of clothing and charity as she mends and makes clothing for others and dies out of charity and love for her older sister. Finally, Sonya is depicted as a girl who is simply dressed and is herself poor and “ruined” due to her acts of charity for her step-family. She also even makes shirt collars and cuffs for a customer and doesn’t demand payment even though they are kept by the customer; in Sibera she becomes a sort of tailor/dressmaker and mends things for the people living there.

    At the other end of the spectrum we have hoarding of clothing and materialism. We see in both Luhzin and Svdrigailov dress foppishly and as men obsessed with materialism and immoral ideals. We even read Luhzin saying that to tear his coat in half and give half to his neighbor would only leave them both half-naked. Even the pawnbroker hoards bits of cloth along with the pledges in her apartment.

    Most importantly, Raskolnikov’s attitude toward clothing is very telling. His clutching at his bloody sock, his reluctance to buy new clothes or take off his old ones is the antithesis of acting charitably. His ugly and ratty hat and soiled, poor clothing do not bother Raskolnikov because he doesn’t care about the outside world- which is the opposite of showing charity. His overcoat even helps him commit the crime!

    Dostoevsky goes to great lengths to tie clothing to religion with charity and morals as well as with images of blood, cloth, and sacrifice.

  7. Ben Tabb
    April 13th, 2009 | 8:53 pm

    In Crime in Punishment there are a number of characters who don’t seem to be very likeable or good people. By the end of the story, it appears there are two characters in particular who are frontrunners in the race for biggest ahole in the story: Svidrigailov and Luzhin. Svidrigailov appears to do the greatest harm, by first ruining Dunia’s reputation and then attempting to rape her. There is even the question of whether he poisoned his own wife to go after Dunia. But despite all this, I can’t help but feel more disgusted by Luzhin, and I think that Dostoesvky intends it that way. While he does nothing nearly as bad as attempting to rape someone, he is clearly cold, selfish and cheap on the inside.

    It’s hard to argue for Svidrigailov being the better man amongst any company; he is, by any definition, a complete scumbag. He sacrifices his wife for his infatuation with Dunia. He claims that he loves her, but does nothing but hurt her. He constantly lies to everyone in order to protect himself. But he is clearly capable of selflessness. He gives money to Katerina Ivanovna and her family to Dunia and to his fiance’s family. Most importantly, are his motives. Everything he does regarding Dunia, no matter how despicable, is because he truly does love her, which in my mind, makes his actions at least somewhat less reprehensible. His actions are completely misguided, but his feeling are pure. It’s clear that he’s not even in it for sex or any selfish pleasure, when he finally lets Dunia go knowing that he has no chance at winning her love. If there were any doubt left as to how much he values himself at the end, he ends his own life by shooting himself.

    Luzhin, while his actions may be less damaging, is clearly the more selfish of the characters. Everything he does is to better himself and his image. In the first scene in which he appears he is wearing what seems to be a freshly bought outfit and is acting with a fake sense of sophistication. He is drawn to Dunia not by love, but by his desire to improve his image by taking on a helpless woman as his wife whom he will have complete control over. He then displays his cheapness by putting Dunia and her mother up in a cheap apartment, and forcing them to take out a loan for the trip. He even admits his selfishness when he says he would never tear half his coat in half for a neighbor, because then they would both be half naked. Clearly, someone as Christian as we know Dostoevsky to be would not agree with this notion, and wants us to see Luzhin’s selfishness for what it is. While Svidrigailov’s despicable actions were led by love, Luzhin’s only interest is in himself; neither his actions nor his heart contain any good.

  8. Brett Basarab
    April 13th, 2009 | 8:54 pm

    Sonia strikes me as one of the strongest characters in the novel. Her devout religious faith and the terrible sacrifices she has made for her family say much in favor of her character. However, what is most important in the novel is the role she plays in relation to Raskolnikov. She acts as both his conscience and his redeemer; after Raskolnikov confesses to her, she convinces him that he must accept his fate as a murderer and begin to repent. Ultimately, Sonia sets Raskolnikov on the path to redemption.

    In a powerful scene, Sonia hands Raskolnikov a wooden cross, and Raskolnikov replies, “It is the symbol of my taking up the cross, as though I had not suffered much till now! (426) Through this act, Sonia suggests that Raskolnikov must suffer and repent to free himself of sin, and only then can he begin to clear his name. She also tells him to go to the cross roads, kiss the earth and confess that “I am a murderer,” thereby outwardly acknowledging his sin. Sonia clearly acts as Raskolnikov’s conscience, steering him onto the correct path.

    Unfortunately, Raskolnikov fails to completely repent, as he is unable to confess that “I am a murderer” at the cross roads. As people stand around jeering at him, he is unable to utter the words. Eventually, Raskolnikov tries to make his confession final at the police station, but even there, he cannot say the fateful words to Ilya Petrovitch. Just as he leaves, however, he sees Sonia outside with “a look of poignant agony, of despair in her face” (433). Finally, Raskolnikov is overcome as he charges back into the police station and shouts out his confession. Sonia’s influence over him is made final in this scene. Only through her was he able to confess to the killings, accept that he did wrong, and thereby take the first step to redemption. Sonia brings Raskolnikov back to earth: unfortunately for him, he is no extraordinary man, but he is one capable of repenting for his sins.

  9. Patrick O'Neill
    April 13th, 2009 | 10:31 pm

    Like Lisa, I really enjoyed the subplot concerning Katerina Ivanova. However, I have a slightly different take on the events. While I do see that she is above all else, refusing to be seen as anything other than another human being (to paraphrase Lisa’s last sentence), after some consideration and discussion with my roommate (who read the novel recently in Katz’s class) I still would agree with the narrator that Katerina Ivanova is burdened by a very foolish and strong sense of pride. True, it is clear as day that her external environment utterly destroyed her, but I think in all her suffering, what may have initially been a search for dignity turned into this hysterical pride that the narrator keeps mentioning. Clearly she is not an “extraordinary woman” as she is not able to bear her own suffering. Concerning this subject, however, I do not under any circumstances think that the reader should view her in the same light as Raskolnikov as his own actions drove him to insanity whereas although one might be able to somewhat argue the same for Katerina Ivanova, I personally do not believe her to be at all at fault, as life itself simply dealt her poor cards without end. In my opinion, she really had no say in the matter from the beginning and in this sense is nonetheless deserving of pity, which the narrator does not give.

    On a similar note, Lisa makes an interesting point that “pride is the foolish thing [that] get men into stupid situations like trying to be Napoleon which women like Sonya have to help clean up.” This thought leads me to wonder whether in the absence of Raskolnikov, if Sonya might have been able to rescue her step-mother from the depths of her suffering. The dynamic between the two characters is a very weird one, which ultimately shed light on other philosophical points for me. While Sonya acknowledges that nobody else is suffering more than Raskolnikov, she never seems to openly address the extent of Katerina Ivanova’s sufferings. Perhaps it is because she too is intertwined and shares part in this miserable situation. By way of her prostitution, she is in a sense bearing a cross for her family, but it does not seem to meet with too much success. On the subject of Raskolnikov, however, her religious sentiments and thoughts seem to help set him on the path towards redemption. In this regard, I think Dostoevsky is clearly advocating a turn towards God instead of a turn away from Him, in this case by means of prostitution and trying to communicate to the reader the importance of faith in redeeming oneself from the suffering life has to offer.

  10. Zachary Harris
    April 13th, 2009 | 11:31 pm

    The second half of this novel shows Raskolnikov completely discard his beliefs that he is an extraordinary man and his disenfranchisement with the idea that it is even a good thing to be an extraordinary man. Sonya clearly is the character truly responsible for Raskolnikov’s conversion, and Raskolnikov’s disgust with Svidrigailov also helps him fully lose belief in his idea of the extraordinary man. Yet I also found Porfiry’s role in Raskolnikov’s conversion very interesting.

    Porfiry has no real evidence that Raskolnikov committed the murder. He suspects Raskolnikov early in the novel based upon the fact that he becomes ill right after the murder. He becomes certain of his guilt when he is told by by a witness that Raskolnikov in a crazed state came to the apartment of the old woman asking the workers there about the blood that had been spilt there before and then asking to be taken to the police department. While these facts certainly do allow one to be very suspicious of Raskolnikov, they do should not really make one certain that he committed the murder as he was in a crazed state from his illness when he visited the apartment.

    When Porfiry interrogates Raskolnikov, he uses incredible psychological mind games to attempt to extract a confession from him. He never outright accuses him of committing the murder (in fact he avoids the question when Raskolnikov demands to know if Porfiry thinks he committed the murder), but acts in such a manner towards Raskolnikov that encourages him to completely break down in a way that a guiltless person would not. He at first acts very calm discussing completely unrelated topics with Raskolnikov, which causes Raskolnikov to become uneasy. He then discusses the way in which he conducts his investigations (or at least the way he pretends to), revealing that he does not accuse those he suspects right away but lets them be paranoid for a while thus revealing through their bizarre behavior that they are guilty of the crime. He is obviously referring to Raskolnikov’s bizarre behavior following the murder, and even suggests that one may faint unexpectedly after committing a crime just as Raskolnikov did. He makes Raskolnikov completely lose his nerves when, after stating this, he tells him “But why are you so pale, Rodion Romanovich? Is there not enough air? Shall I open a window?” (pg.342).

    I believe that Porfiry’s method of finding out criminals, and his great success in using this method, fits in completely with the main themes of the novel. While he does not have evidence that Raskolnikov committed the murder, he believes that he can prove it and force a confession from him because he knows what a murder will act like. He even is capable of pinning down which type of crazed behavior is show by a murderer. He knows that Nikolai did not commit the murder even though he confessed to it because his bizarre behavior is not that of a murderer, while he believes that Raskolnikov’s is. He must only release Raskolnikov from the police station because of protocol as Nikolai confesses to the murder while Raskolnikov is in the room.

    Murder seems to be a distinct wretched condition that completely overwhelms the murderer so that it is impossible for him/her to return to a normal state. Reason has no power to prevent one from feeling wretched and acting guilty if one has committed a murder, and as Sonya shows, the only cure for it is full repentance through Christ.

  11. Alexandra Boillot
    April 14th, 2009 | 12:33 am

    Svidrigailov was right in saying that he and Raskolnikov were similar in that both characters are marked by a definite unhappiness and subsequent search for fulfillment but in their emotions and decision-making they diverge into perfect opposites. However, while this seems like it should make Svidrigailov an extraordinary man, it does not in my opinion. I still cannot let go of the Napoleonic view of the extraordinary man, especially after Raskolnikov in his explanation to Sonya basically says that he fashioned his extraordinary man on Napoleon. Therefore, Svidrigailov’s actions do not constitute those of an extraordinary man’s because the bad ones are not for any purpose. Even though he does perform heroic deeds, like giving much monetary assistance, these deeds come from his own resources and he does not commit a crime to help others.

    However, Svidrigailov is closer to the extraordinary man than Raskolnikov is because he can make clear decisions without too much anguish and once the decision is made, he accepts it and does not dwell on it, no matter how much suffering was caused by that decision. Svidrigailov is truly independent in that no one inhibits him in his decisions. There is not even a conscious sense of having to choose one way in order to please those around him- he does what he wants. Raskolnikov does not have this attribute: he tries to become independent in the murdering of the old woman but clearly fails since he cannot live with what he did.

    Ultimately though, Raskolnikov is the winner between these two because Svidrigailov commits suicide and dies alone while Raskolnikov gives himself up to God and suffering, with his family and Sonya in his thoughts. Dostoevsky’s message here is that the conscience that Raskolnikov has, as much as it tortures him, is better than Svidrigailov’s uninhibited whim because although Raskolnikov suffers from it, Svidrigailov suffers too, and at least Raskolnikov has some moral code that will prevent him from acting dangerously on society again.

  12. Hannah Wilson
    April 14th, 2009 | 12:51 am

    Svidrigailov’s suicide seems to be the most perplexing plot line throughout the novel. From the time that we first meet him he is constantly described as this scary, sick, yellow man who has lost all faith. What is so shocking and unexpected are the moments of tenderness and the dreams he has right before he commits suicide. Up until the moments right before he takes his own life, he is shown as Ben put it an “ahole,” but unlike Ben for me, his suicide is a self-acknowledgement that he really has nothing going for him and that he will find no redemption on earth. A nihilist perhaps? He attempts to do a little good before he goes, giving all his money to Sonya’s family and he experiences true human emotions by taking care of the young girl. It is in the last moments that we truly see his character. Perhaps I have too much sympathy for the pathetic man, but he appears never to have had anything really going for him. His wife didn’t really like him, Dunya didn’t like him, his fiancée only liked him for his money, and his town thought he was a scumbag. Fine, he never did anything to prove them otherwise and he was occasionally appeared to be malicious, but he really didn’t mean THAT much harm.

    Svidrigailov’s last dream also seems to clarify for him what he has to do. Contrasted with his current dismal living conditions and lack of true love, the dream provides him with an unrealized reality that may only be reached through death. I am struggling with Svidrigailov’s notion of the afterlife. His dream paints an image of a beautiful funeral, with red roses and Chinese vases, the works. While there are no icons it appears that this is an honorable burial. The P&V translations goes as far to comment with an end note that in Christian tradition suicides do not warrant either Christian burial nor prayers (implying that he should not have seen suicide as a respectable way to die.) However, I am not sure that this is exactly in line with what Svi. thinks. He does not pass judgment on her and also respects her for dying of a broken heart and almost envies the respect given to her. He knows that he will not receive this kind of treatment since he is a pathetic man, but one can always dream.

    It is also important to look at the parallel between him and Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov chooses life, but a Christian life, admitting that there is something greater out there. This is the opposite of Svidigailov. At the end of his life Raskolnikov is accuses of being a nihilist and denies it. He admits that he is not an extraordinary man here because the extraordinary man would be able to forsake god and simply live with his actions. While Svidrigailov’s character would fit into the notion of an extraordinary man much better. For Rask. the only way he can find any peace is through his religious redemption guided by Sonya, who might I add is wearing a bright green (think spring and rebirth and contrast with the ever present yellow) scarf in the last scene.

    We are left with two very different ideas about life and where to find meaning in it. Raskolnikov chooses life on earth as well as religion while Svidrigailov refuses to believe that our condition can ever be changed. He clearly finds no meaning on living. For him the only way to end our suffering is to kill ourselves before it is too late. Dostoevsky clearly agrees with Raskolnikov, the entire book is about his religious redemption and he places the Svidrigailov sub-plot as merely an afterthought. There is hardly a mention of his suicide in the end and no one makes a big deal about it. That leaves me to wonder, why did he include it at all? Obviously he had thought about these ideas, but he makes no justification or judgment on him (okay, maybe it’s too early to say that seeing as I still have to read the epilogue), only that his death is over shadowed in the end and in no way is he honored.

    Also. Sorry for such a long posting this is far longer than 250 words, but I just had a lot to say.

  13. Kaylen Baker
    April 14th, 2009 | 12:59 am

    Comparing Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov

    Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov both sense their sins in the other, as Svidrigailov mentions: “Didn’t I say there was something in common between us?” Svidrigailov abuses servants, women, and especially young children to suit his perverted pleasures. His ability to master anything allows him to get away with these crimes; we can see this talent even by the way he leaves Raskolnikov dangling by a thread even before he gains knowledge of the deaths of the Alyona and Lizaveta. Raskolnikov commits his crime because as a dreamer he convinced himself he “wanted to become a Napoleon,” but more simply, he “wanted to dare.” Which crime is more dangerous, one made by an unlimited revolutionist, or by an honest pedophile?

    Their crimes, while holding them together throughout the story, ultimately end in different directions. Raskolnikov chooses to live in shame, although he explains, “if I’ve considered myself a strong man all along, then let me not be afraid of shame now.” This pride proves he has something worthy in him, consequently making his confession both humble (physically kissing the ground) and exalted – contradictory like his personality.

    Svidrigailov kills himself in front of a soldier, dubbed “Achilles” from his helmet. I believe Dostoevsky uses this image because in the Trojan War it was honorable to die by Achilles. Svidrigailov dies “nearby” Achilles and not by Achilles hand, but the message is that his death was an honorable decision.

    Why did Dostoevsky fabricate these two men? In my opinion, Raskolnikov symbolizes the struggles of not an extraordinary man, but not an ordinary one either. He represents Russian idealist who can’t make sense of the world around them. He acts paradoxically – he wants to live yet doesn’t give a damn, he cares for the pitiable yet can slaughter an innocent and divorce his family, he thinks too much yet loses himself in hard emotions. What Dostoevsky drives home is that his Russians, (and us too, since we are still captivated by this novel) are eternally conflicted, but still benefit from a human connection. “Is it that I love her? I don’t, do I? …I wanted to cling at least to something, to linger, to look at a human being!”

    Svidrigailov is disgusting, but aside from his sick problem, he is amusing, unabashed, honest, and above all can love. He could have taken Dunya after the first shot, but he gives up, and even helps her by giving money to Razumikhin via Sonya. I disagree that he is the extraordinary man; he’s not very successful from his exploits. I think Dostoevsky found a humane element in the man, or he wouldn’t have put such a vibrant, mysterious and witty character in the plot. I know he’s not “good” but I couldn’t help having compassion for him. My heart honestly went out to him and his character touched me more than any other.

  14. Stewart Moore
    April 14th, 2009 | 5:34 am

    When I look back on how Sonya entered the story, I keep finding it very strange. After he father’s death in the street she begins to become one of the books important characters, or at least the character who Raskolnikov depends the most upon. She is the disgraced imbodyment of goodness, but how logical is her relationship with Raskolnikov?After all she didn’t know him at the beginning of the book, yet it is to her that Rask. will intrust his deepest and darkest secrets.

    The relationship between Sonya and Rask. is always slightly strange. It seems to have an almost omnipotent element, where they both can understand one another without words. At times I wanted to say, “Oh they love each other,” yet I could never put a label on the twisting maze. It appears that their relationship served as a catharsis for both Sonya and Rosk., while also causing major stress upon both of them. The relationship is also a way to show the reader Rosk.’s internal battle and the way he thinks of his own actions.

    In truth this troubling relationship seems to only be true in literature or other media. Perhaps strange things such as this happen among real people, but it appears that Rask. and Sonya are on a different level of strangeness and there fore have a relationship not possible to conventional human beings. However maybe that is simply my lack of being extraordinary..

  15. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 14th, 2009 | 8:01 am

    I find Svidrigailov to be one of the most interesting characters of the book. However, I have my reservations about him for the following reason: if he really does fit the profile of an “extraordinary man,” this theory, in my eyes, loses credibility because of Svidrigailov’s depraved nature. It also means that the theory of the extraordinary man has no moral guidance; instead it is based solely on logic and reason.

    Raskolnikov initially sets out to commit these crimes to benefit those other than himself. We see Christian elements in him throughout the story, even though he killed 2 women. First of all, he commits the murders not for himself, but to help others, giving his motive a moral influence. He later finds Sonya, a beacon of religious light (really did I just say that?), and knows that he has to confess because redemption is his only option. He recognizes that he has done wrong, and knows that he has to exist within the framework of religious and legal codes. He is human. He is not extraordinary. This doesn’t necessarily defeat the theory of the extraordinary man, but then Svidrigailov comes in.

    Svidrigailov is depraved and disgusting. He has no respect for anyone or anything. And while Raskolnikov is driven mad over his sin, Svidrigailov sins constantly and retains his clarity and carelessness. His crimes do nothing to further the prosperity of mankind. He commits suicide in the end, which he drove himself to do. There was no religious influence, as Christianity frowns upon suicide (to put it lightly). Svidrigailov operates within the world of logic and reason, void of morality. He can commit crimes without thinking twice. However, in the end, he does two things that are magnanimous. First, he lets Dunya leave the room after he threatened to rape her. Second, he gives money to Sonya. So does this mean that a man who is utterly vile 99% of the time, who has no trace of morality or religion, in the end be considered extraordinary? Does he fit the profile?

    I think Dostoevsky is (clearly) trying to disprove the theory of the extraordinary man. I’m not ready to buy it. To me, an extraordinary man needs to be good at the core. Svidrigailov is not. Raskolnikov might be. But it’s Svidrigailov who fulfills the “extraordinary” role in this book. Dostoevsky is trying to shatter the extraordinary man theory, proving that it is directly opposed to that which is moral and good. I’m somewhat distraught over this. I still think that the two can go together. I’m not ready to let go of the extraordinary man theory.

  16. Jennifer Ridder
    April 14th, 2009 | 8:09 am

    The magistrate and the ultimate investigator, Porfiry Petrovich is of interest to me. In the begging we view Porfiry as a mundane lawyer who is out to trick Raskolincov into confessing. However, I think that from his inner self he is a man of creativity and honesty trying to understand Rask. To me it seems, that his steady hand and his thoughtfulness allow him to see through Rask. He carefully untangles the split psyche of the criminal who split open the heads of two innocent women. However, he does discover Rask’s crimes in an untraditional, and perhaps even immoral way. Porfiry Petrovich does not follow the strict procedures of the law; rather he casually delves into the suspect’s conscience. He has a certain distrust of the formal letters of the law; consequently he attempts to investigate Rask with a casual and friendly conversation. In his purposefully friendly method of investigating Rask, he wishes not to just to punish Rask but also for Rask to confess. There are plenty of instances where he could just arrest Rask, but rather he waits for a confession. To me Porfiry is waiting for a confession of guilt, like a sage or a priest, wanting to understand his suffering so that he can be carefully guide him towards new understanding of his crime. He is slowly bringing Rask the suffering of punishment so that he can fully understand his crime. This process is not out of cruelty, but out of a sense that law is secondary; that by following the standards of the law, one will not feel true remorse or suffering. Therefore, Porifiry brings Rask to have an internal realization, a desire to suffer, rather than the simple determination of the law. Therefore through the creativity of Porfiry, and not shrewdness, I feel that Porifry is actually bringing Rask closer to god and suffering of sin, rather then just out to get him.

  17. Casey Mahoney
    April 14th, 2009 | 8:18 am

    Although I take Lisa’s criticisms of the narrator’s possible confusion of “dignity” and “pride” with regard to Katerina Ivanovna well, I think that such a probably intentional blurring of this difference serves Dostoevsky’s purpose.

    At one point in my reading I wrote in the margin, “Is everyone in this book -besides- Raskolnikov really the ‘extraordinary’ man?” Not to say that I thought everyone else had the same philosophical “justification” for their faults, but that everyone seemed to have been able to deal with their pride issues in a much less self-deprecating, less self-evaluating way than Raskonikov had been able to: Svidrigailov has no problems with his immorality, Luzhin’s ego is tireless, Katerina Ivanovna (as much as we may want to dote on her quaintness and help her out ourselves) disregards the care of her children out of vanity, etc. One could make similar arguments about the other characters too, I think, showing their relative scrupulousness in some of the actions we might condemn otherwise.

    My point in highlighting all this, though, is to show that it is Sonya only who is completely void of the vice of Pride, which Dostoevsky so hates. Her falling before Raskolnikov’s feet as he confesses the murder to her, besides it being an extremely powerful, emotional scene, expresses what I think Dostoevsky must hold to be the epitome of self-emptying, humble love and forgiveness. As contrasted with the hysterics of Sonya’s mother, I think that the actions of Sonya are much more of what Dostoevsky would want us to take away as a vision of someone maintaining their dignity. When Raskolnikov then asks of Sonya the belabored question of the 1860s, “What to do?”, she prescribes his public confession as the cure for his redemption; only upon doing this, it seems, does Dostoevsky believe that Raskolnikov’s sacrifice of his “extraordinary” pride can exalt him as the redeemed hero of the novel.

  18. Catherine Ahearn
    April 14th, 2009 | 8:23 am

    The gradual introduction and expansion of the novel’s various subplots and their thin, yet relevant, connecting points is one of C&P’s best elements. As I continue to read I become more and more interested in Raskolnikov’s psyche, or the way he is thinking about and processing the world around him. At first, I thought that Raskolnikov’s interaction with Porfiry, especially in book IV at the police station, was the key subplot to focus on if trying to understand Raskolnikov. Porfiry’s connection to the murder automatically makes him the second half of an cause and effect equation that the novel’s title succinctly emphasizes. Aside from this, Porfiry himself highlights the psychological importance of the actions in the play. He plays mind games with Raskolnikov to tease him out of his hiding. However, what we learn about Raskolnikov in his relation to Porfiry is no more than his own paranoia and level of confidence in his ability to get away with the murder.
    In reality, Porfiry is trying to get at the Raskolnikov that Sonya brings out. In many ways this subplot is the most valuable to understanding Raskolnikov as a rationally or irrationally acting agent in the novel. As readers, we see many different sides of Raskolnikov’s person through his dealings with Sonya; the first obviously being his blind generosity at the death of her father. Later however, an inexplicable attraction binds Raskolnikov to Sonya. In the scene where he demands that she read the story of Lazarus from the bible he is almost merciless and mean (very much like the Underground Man in his dealings with Liza). And yet, she is the only one Raskolnikov personally confesses to. However, it is not Raskolnikov;s actual confession of the murder that is so insightful into his mind, but his confession of his true motives to Sonya. “I wanted to kill without causitry, Sonya, I wanted to kill for myself, for myself alone!…It was not to help my mother that I killed- nonsense!” (page 419). Furthermore, Sonya’s trust in religion and deep devotion to her family gives her a redemptive quality tat Raskolnikov lacks. Raskolnikov confesses to the selfishness of his crime, making the reader question to what extent he regrets committing the crime and if he is truly worthy of our sympathy, a sentiment Sonya naturally pulls out of the reader. The subplot of Sonya and her family works as a plot device and a tool of characterization in that it offers Raskolnikov an outlet for personal weakness that is key in breaking down his complicated person.

  19. Susanna Merrill
    April 14th, 2009 | 8:40 am

    Several people have compared Lukhin and Svidrigailov. I don’t think there’s much of a comparison: Lukhin is a silly man, unsophisticated in his conceit, basically stupid: he’s really just an unpleasant man. Svidrigailov, on the other hand, seems to be a demon, and a great one at that; recall that Satan was the most glorious of the angels before his fall. Svidrigailov, too, has something of grandeur of personality and even soul about it, and that very breadth of soul, and sophistication of evil, is what makes the man so terrifyingly dangerous. He is intelligent, attractive, charming (witness his winning of his young bride), and, most crucially, he well understands good. He is capable of great good, has visions, which he occasionally enacts, of how a life of good could be, and he appreciates, in a mainly rhetorical way, the goodness of others.

    Something within him, however, is fundamentally depraved. Even knowing good, in a more sophisticated way, probably, than any other character in the novel (he can spin touching tales about his wife, Dunya, his little bride, etc., with apparent insight), he just can’t live it. An intellectual and aesthetic moral sense is apparently not the same as an actual conscience. He has no significant mechanism of inward repulsion at evil.

    Dostoyevsky makes this devil all the more terrifying by making him a mystery, and giving us largely second-hand, questionable information about him. We have suggestions of horror, and what we don’t know for certain can be as bad as we can imagine it. There is a rumor that he brutally raped a little deaf-mute girl and drove her to suicide; he may have horribly beaten his servant, or maybe just driven him to death by psychological torture; he may have horribly beaten his wife, or he may have poisoned her, or who knows what else; his evil is too sophisticated for full treatment in the novel, Dostoyevsky suggests, and we should get the idea from these chilling shadows.

    As a side note, one of my favorite lines in the book is when Svidrigailov tells Raskolnikov that heaven may be just spiders. It’s in Svidrigailov’s first appearance in the novel, and we immediately understand that this man is frightening, a little crazy, but at the same time intriguing. In case you want to read it in Russian, it’s:
    Свидригайлов сидел в задумчивости.
    — А что, если там одни пауки или что-нибудь в этом роде, — сказал он вдруг.
    «Это помешанный», — подумал Раскольников.

  20. Elise Hanks
    April 14th, 2009 | 9:21 am

    in a quick response to Hannah’s comment about the dreams of Svidrigailov…

    i think we have to see the dream of the young girls as a sexual peversion first and foremost. The girl is likened to a prostitue and is less than ten years old (more likely closer to five). I don’t think he has a moment of tenderness in putting her to bed because in undressing her he is, in fact, exposing her and watching her in that state of undress- and he lies her on his own bed. ALSO, I think it is worth noting that the girl is all wet. Not only does this link to sex and sexuality, but also to baptism and rebirth. We clearly see that Svidrigailov is drawn to this reverse baptism of the girl hence foreshadowing his suicide- he does not, cannot, will not accept Christ and redemption.

  21. Adam Levine
    April 14th, 2009 | 9:48 am

    I think Jennifer’s observation of Porfiry is astute – he is not the typical detective whose duty ends at uncovering a murderer. By stating that he views the law to be “secondary,” she touches upon a complex point that I would like to expound upon.

    I must reference my thesis once again since the overlap between it and Dostoevsky’s novel is remarkable. Detectives are placed in a difficult moral position by the nature of their job description: they must preserve human life by apprehending murderers. This process appears contradictory, however, since they are also indirectly responsible for the death of the criminal during capital punishment. Thus, by attempting to rid the world of killers, detectives must find the right people to kill. In one sense, this reminds one of “the extraordinary man” theory, which assumes superiority over others and a freedom to break ethical or legal codes. If every human has the right to live, then detectives are preventing that right for the criminals they capture, despite what the guilty party has committed. If we acknowledge that Porfiry has the ability to arrest someone, thereby circuitously executing them, then Raskolnikov’s theory proves true, therefore justifying his own murder.

    However, Porfiry does not wish to murder anyone; he wants to disprove “the extraordinary man” theory by undermining external (and in this case, capital) punishment. He shows that his actions as a detective are authentic, telling Raskolnikov, “Whether you confess or not – it’s all the same to me right now…and consequentially it’s just for your sake alone. By God, it will be better, Rodion Romanych” (457 – 458). By emphasizing that confession will liberate rather than limit the protagonist and allowing him to determine his own course, Porfiry demonstrates that he does not believe the law to be the “end all” – unlike other detectives, who would stop at an arrest, he wishes to reveal that his duty extends to guiding the criminals as well as preserving justice. It appears that to him, punishment can be productive or counterproductive, and killing a killer without the chance for personal redemption is certainly against what the “law” in general represents, which is protection for everybody, sinners and non-sinners. I am not saying that I always and completely disapprove of the death penalty – I simply mean to show, like Jennifer, that Porfiry’s decision to refrain from immediate action distinguishes him from more legally-focused officers, and that his philosophy helps to undercut Raskolnikov’s theory of power.

  22. Harry Morgenthau
    April 14th, 2009 | 10:32 am

    In her post, Kara touches on the idea that there are greater forces that seem to be controlling Raskolnikov, and that he is “powerless” in front of them. On one level, I think it is easy to attribute this powerlessness to God. Raskolnikov has given up religion for a faith in the pure power of man, and it has failed him. He thought that he had the strength to live and succeed in a world completely on his own abilities; he thought that he could determine the fates of others, that he could exert control over the world. But as Raskolnikov readily admits to Sonya, his failure in producing anything positive out of his two murders has proven that he does not have that control; he is not an extraordinary man. From this, we can read that Raskolnikov’s apparent loss of control over his actions is caused by an angry God. Raskolnikov believed that he could be God, and now the true deity is showing him otherwise. Sonya, then, is God’s agent, sturdily believing against all odds, and urging Raskolnikov to repent. She knows the true meanings of faith and sacrifice, and she is certain that everything good must come from God. Through Sonya, God will force Raskolnikov to repent.

    But there is another answer for Raskolnikov’s lack of real control over his actions throughout the book that professor Beyer has stressed: It is Dostoevsky himself that is unfairly controlling Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov is constantly moving from one place to another, unsure really of where he is going or why he is going there. He often gets great rushes of anger that he cannot control and whose origins he cannot explain. They almost always arrive at an inopportune time. Does this mean that Raskolnikov is bipolar or schizophrenic? Or that Dostoevsky is making sure that Raskolnikov acts a certain way? Does Raskolnikov actually feel so guilty, or does Dostoevsky just want him to feel that way. In this class, we have talked extensively about the authors control over their characters; some just let them go, claiming that they are now out of the authors control, but others forcedly maintain that exacting control throughout the entire story. In a story like this one, where traces of Dostoevsky’s hand are everywhere, I think we have to be careful differentiating between what the characters might tell us, and what the author wants to tell us.

  23. Gabriel G Suarez
    May 7th, 2009 | 7:22 am

    Raskolnikov’s breakdown and search for meaning in sight of his previous actions form a very compelling plot. Raskolnikov seems to be an extension of the UM, except having added the conviction that he is an extraordinary man. Looking at the structure of this plot, I must say that Dostoevskii has done everything in his power to destroy that theory, at times he has even been unfair to the more moderated aspects of it, exaggerating the premises so that he can have a more grounded conclusion. Nevertheless, if we take that structure as a given, then we must also say that Raskolnikov does indeed show us the futility of the extraordinary man. His final search is more than just a search for meaning. He searches for redemption, love, meaning, and he hopes to regain what he lost. It is the state of the man who has lost everything. Raskolnikov always seems to be only a few pages short of a complete breakdown, and a religious conversion. And so, as we keep seeing him in this continuous pit, we can’t help but take notice of how desperately he is clinging on to little shreds of pride that keep him from redemption and meaning. “Why, how, can this have happened to me?” he thinks. Well, Raskolnikov, to be honest, you bought into the only thing more dangerous than ultra-modernity: nihilism. You thought that you were strong enough to do this, this, let’s be honest, small step outside of the box. But you collapsed. Because even while he couldn’t continue living the way he was, he is now in the depths, he is crying to us de profundis, and he can’t stand that. He is suffocated.

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