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Crime and Slime

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


Contrast Raskolnikov’s theory of the Extraordinary Man with Sonya’s alternative.

16 Responses to “Crime and Slime”

  1. Russell Jacobs says:

    Katerina Ivanovna interested me throughout Crime and Punishment. She was one of the most judgmental, most complicated characters to assess. Her readiness to condemn other characters (almost everyone at Marmeladov’s wake, the ranked officials who refuse to lend her money, Marmeladov himself) struck me as unremarkable at first; of course she condemns them, I thought. But in the context of the novel, where there are judgments flying constantly through Raskolnikov’s head (and my own), her story has some resonance, I think. Raskolnikov’s fatal decision is acting on his flawed condemnation of Alyona. Much of the psychological drama throughout is of characters attempting to assess one another; often, they underestimate. Katerina Ivanovna’s breakdown, when I started thinking about judgment as a more conscious theme of Dostoy’s, is fascinating. She becomes the ultimate object of judgment as her life nears an end and yet she implicates just about everyone around her. There’s an element of sacrifice and grotesque purposefulness here; Katerina sort of does what Dostoyevsky’s novel does. She is the most heart wrenchingly unbearable character to watch as she breaks down, and yet her downfall is illuminating. We see the futility of judgment in Katerina.

  2. Katherine Burdine says:

    Apparently Raskolnikov wrote an academic paper on his theory of ordinary and extraordinary people. Essentially Raskolnikov argues that people are divided into two types, the ordinary and the extraordinary. The ordinary man has the right “to allow his conscience to step over certain obstacles” (259). The ordinary man is, in contrast, hemmed in by all the rules that govern day to day living. For Raskolnikov, being great not only allows, but necessitates this crossing of boundaries; this sort of person is by his nature “a destroyer or inclined to destroy” (260). Sonya Marmeladova takes nearly the opposite view; that people are equal before God, and that what makes someone extraordinary is not his or her power to transgress or destroy but the power to heal or create, like Jesus bringing Lazarus back from the dead. Raskolnikov embraces death, while Sonya embraces life.

    Their respective lodgings are interestingly symbolic of their respective views. Raskolnikov’s little room is frequently described as stifling, tiny, coffin-like, enclosed. It is like a trap with no way out. Sonya’s room, by contrast, has a big wall with three windows (symbolic of the trinity, perhaps) and a corner that is so deep no-one can tell where it ends. Despite her insufferable circumstances, Sonya is not trapped like Raskolnikov; her faith is her escape and her salvation.

  3. Vanda Gaidamovic says:

    In a traditional, monastic Russia, the moral rules were predetermined, established by the accepted religious authority. In a contemporary world, a man is given freedom to search for acceptable norms on his own. In such search, the two conflicting realms, spirit and matter, often collide and result in unforgivable, undoable errors. Raskolnikov allows the intrusion of rationalism into spiritual domain, which in turn, gives him grounds to support his eccentric argument about the ordinary and extraordinary individuals. Sonya Marmeladova, on the other hand, while exploiting her own body, maintains purity of mind and spirit. The crucial difference is that Raskolnikov separates (splits) humanity into camps, whereas Sonya embraces everyone.
    Raskolnikov’s murder(s) are manifestations of such division – not only he “cuts himself off from everyone one and from everything” – Raskolnikov’s homicide is an act of transcending the fixed, tolerable limits, the border dividing material and spiritual realities. It is not an accident, that crime, or prestuplenije in Russian means to cross the line, to step out (perestupit’).

  4. Margaret Fulford says:

    The issue of strong or weak female characters in Russian literature during this time period is one that begs examination. In Fathers and Children, Odintsova is independent, headstrong, learned. However, she finds herself in a struggle of wills with Bazarov that she does not definitively win. In What Is To Be Done, Chernyshevsky stressed the importance of female liberation for the social revolution that would bring us closer to Utopia. Vera Pavlona, while not a Rakhmetov-type extraordinary character, is an illustration of the ideal. She is effeminate but strong, able and willing to open her eyes and become something more than herself. However, she relied on male characters to free her from her home situation and to bring her up to be the ideal female revolutionary.
    In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky somewhat mirrors this idea. Avdotya Romanovna is undeniably the strongest female character in the novel, displaying all the virtues of a well-bred woman while also the independence and willpower of a traditional masculine hero. Several people above have already discussed how she subordinates herself to Raskolnikov. I would argue that she does this more out of the hierarchy of the family and ignorance of Raskolnikov’s true character than out of a female-to-male submissiveness. Raskolnikov is her older sibling, and when he left his family, three years before the novel began, he was obviously quite a different person. His time in St. Petersburg changed him, and perhaps drove him crazy. It is notable that Dunya does oppose him several times in the story, and I believe that it is her love for him that leads her to value his judgement so highly, rather than his masculinity. She obviously doesn’t care about “masculine superiority” when it comes to dealing with Svidrigailov and Luzhin.

  5. Laura Howard says:

    Though many of the sub-plots have interesting human relationships, the one that I am most interested in is that of Roskolnikov and Marmelodov. Despite Marmelodov’s death early in the story (in part two), and the fact that Raskolnikov only spoke with him once, (in part one), the character of Marmelodov does play an enormous part in the story because it is through him that Roskolnikov is introduced to Marmelodov’s family, and thus to Sonya.
    Another interesting aspect of Marmelodov’s role in the story is that he, like many others, provides a “mirror”, or an alternative, to Roskolnikov. We had mentioned in class that Roskolnikov sees in Svidrigailov an alternative to his fate — that of suicide. Roskolnikov also observes this alternative when the young woman drowns herself in the Neva. In the case of Marmelodov, the question of suicide is brought up by the coachman who runs over him. “Maybe on purpose, or else he was really so drunk” the coachman says (175). The sub-plot of Marmelodov, then, falls into the category of the suicide that runs throughout the book. Why Roskolnikov never commits suicide is a question of great importance for his character. Does he, in fact, possess some greater form of intelligence than the others? Does this greater intelligence prove to him that he can be better than the others, that he can live? What drives him?

  6. Anna Mackey says:

    Dunya and Female Courage

    I agree with the other students who have written about Dunya’s refreshing female courage. In most of the stories we have read, females only gain power or stature through being a male character’s object of worship. Yes, positive qualities like intelligence and insight are often contributing factors to this infatuation, but we rarely see the initially dominated woman stand up for herself and turn around her own fate. Though Dunya has the support of her family, she waits to come to her own realization that Luzhin is unworthy of her, and once she does she personally takes action. However like Alex said, how she comes to this realization is very much because of Raskolnikov’s masterful manipulation of emotions and loyalty. Though she is able to stand up to the potentially romantic male figure, she still remains slightly subject to the familial one. However, I still applaud Dunya for attacking Luzhin’s flaws and not accepting the role of a Poor Liza.

  7. Kelsey says:

    Raskolnikov’s ernest belief in the theory of the extraordinary man seems to make a laughingstock out of Sonya’s sacrifice, while juxtaposing Roskolnikov’s and Sonya’s moral fortitude. While Roskolnikov treats Sonya well and respectfully, it is never clear if he understands the magnitude of the sacrifice she’s making for her family. As Porify questions Raskolnikov, it is unclear what makes an extraordinary man an extraordinary man, and if Raskolnikov would allow for the existence of extraordinary females as well. The main difference between the respective sins that Sonya and Raskolnikov commit are their effects on other people. Sonya breaches norms of respectability and her sin affects little other than her own life, while Roskolnikov breaches norms of humanity. Sonya has faith she will forgiven for living her life badly for good reasons, but Roskolnikov does not seem to see the need for faith, when he knows he is one of the chosen ones. In this way, he seems deluded even when he behaves sanely.

  8. Melody Wang says:

    Contrast Raskolnikov’s theory of the Extraordinary Man with Sonya’s alternative.
    According to Raskolnikov’s theory of the Extraordinary Man, people are separated into two categories: the first category: the ordinary people; the second category: extraordinary people. In the second category, the extraordinary people are not bounded by any moral law or crimes in which the ordinary people must abide to. Furthermore, the extraordinary man can commit crimes without bearing any moral burdens or consequences. All of these theoretical propositions are dramatized and account for all of Raskolnikov’s behaviors where: he grants himself the rights to destroy and transgresses moral laws, his insistence of having his own way, and rejection of God. what I find especially compelling in Raskolnikov’s theory is the ways in which he manages to imparts “crime” with obligatory legitimacy. That is to say, he perceives “crimes” as “stepping over certain obstacles,” and he backs it up with references to the groundbreaking scientific discoveries of that of Kepler and Newton. These people are exemplaries of Raskolnikov’s notion of extraordinary people who have transgressed the conventional scientific laws in promotion of more progressive laws that are beneficial to mankind.
    Sonya, on the other hand, is the embodiment of self-effacement and humility, someone who is willing to accept and submit to suffering.

  9. Alexandra Siega says:


    It is curious to view Dunya’s strength of character in the context of Raskolnikov’s descent into madness. Though Dunya is portrayed in so positive a light, her intelligence and caring nature is still viewed as inferior to her brother’s character, regardless of the fact that he is so flawed. Though we see her challenge her brother on the point of Luzhin (specifically how he believes that she is marrying solely for his and their mother’s financial security – a point that she later admits to), eventually what she cares most about is his approval, establishing him as the superior character. All of her moral strength seems to derive from Raskolnikov’s own morals: his idea of what is right for her is ultimately her idea of what is right for herself. During the scene where Raskolnikov apologizes to his mother and sister, Zossimov notes that Raskolnikov’s apologetic actions are skillfully falsified. The son is toying with the emotions of his family and succeeding. When he offers his hand to Dunya, his mother is completely smitten with the action, and even Dunya falls willingly and happily into his trap.

    During their conversation regarding Luzhin’s letter and proposal to Dunya we see more than ever how Dunya desperately idolizes her brother. She argues with Raskolnikov because she wants him to continue to think highly of her, and she reacts so strongly to Raskolnikov’s accusations because she realizes that her tie to Luzhin has strained their relationship. After Raskolnikov exclaims, “‘…in any case you’re acting basely, and I’m glad you’re at least able to blush,’” Dunya proceeds to lose “all her composure” and attempt to wiggle her way out of the mold into which Rasklonikov pushes her. (233) It is obvious that both Dunya and Pulcheria Alexandrovna value Raskolnikov’s opinion and welfare far above their own, and while the selflessness of both of the characters is admirable, their misplaced adoration leads me to question Dunya’s integrity. Dunya is so strong-willed, yet still follows the code of another: one who is clearly crazy in his own right.

  10. Bryanna Kleber says:

    Razumikhin and getting the short end of the stick

    The character I have found myself following is Razumikhin—the reasonable one. He is a man who has to work for what he has, and even with that, his life is somewhat sad. He is a genuine man. He takes care of his friend, Raskolnikov. He is well liked in society. And I just picture him as a good citizen who pays his taxes and tries to help others whenever he can.

    Razumikhin puts in so much of his time and effort into caring for Raskolnikov when he gets sick after the murders. He offers Raskolnikov a job. And Razumikhin really doesn’t suspect Raskolnikov of the murders at first. He always sees the best in people. Razumikhin stands by his friend when other people suspect him of the murder. Then after caring for his friend, trying to convince him that people don’t think he’s guilty, disagreeing with statements suggesting Raskolnikov’s guilt, he gets a slap in the face when he realizes that Raskolnikov is indeed the murderer.

    Razumikhin feels some sort of obligation towards Raskolnikov’s mother and sister. He is always trying to assure them that he will take care of Raskolnikov. With his interactions with Raskolnikov’s mother and sister, he begins to fall in love with Dunya. Although he is drunk when he initially begins to realize his feelings towards Dunya, his feelings still remain when he is sober. Razumikhin seems to love Dunya for respectable reasons and has no intention of taking advantage of her. And he becomes like the boy next door—Dunya doesn’t really pay attention to Razumikhin in that way because he is forced to assume a fatherly role and she is too busy dealing with all her other men. It seems as though good things never happen to Razumikhin even though he is a respectable man.

  11. Sarah Bellingham says:

    Luzhin and exploitation

    This man is truly despicable. He is the character who we love to hate. I would even argue that we hate Luzhin even more than Svidrigailov—mainly because we’re also afraid of Svidrigailov and therefore loathe him in a different way. It’s interesting that Dostoyevsky can make us dislike a man who worked his way up from nothing and sympathize with an axe murderer.

    Luzhin describes Dunya as “a girl of pride, character, virtue, of education and breeding superior to his own” (243). Despite this, he very apparently tries to take advantage of of her. Having just been abused by Svidrigailov and slandered (then rehabilitated) by his wife, Dunya was in a precarious situation. Her family’s economic vulnerability only worsened her state. Luzhin had been waiting for an opportunity like this to occur. He swooped in and proposed to the beautiful young lady. Luzhin viewed himself as Dunya’s savior and openly states that he thinks she ought to be grateful for his charity. However, Luzhin essentially treats Dunya as a prostitute—she is to be his in exchange for financial security.

    Luzhin does not court Dunya properly, showing that he lacks respect for her. The only expense he “covers” is the free baggage shipping to Petersburg, in spite of her family’s poverty and his wealth. He puts her in unsafe housing, showing his disregard for her safety. He had not even played a hand in restoring her reputation (as he so proudly claimed), and did not propose until it was once more intact. Luzhin does Dunya absolutely no good, but he expects her to bow submissively to his commands. That is exploitation.

  12. Ben Kingstone says:

    The end of Crime and Punishment resolves the tensions between Raskolnikov’s idea of the Napoleon and Sonya’s moral of humility. Dostoevsky writes, “That is the begging of a new story, the story of the gradual renewal of a man, to his gradual regeneration, of his slow progress from one world to another, of how he learned to know a hitherto undreamed of reality” (465).
    While Raskolnikov’s current story is finished, we assume that his decision to profess his guilt proves that he has chosen humility over power. He suggests that he will adopt Sony’a faith as his own: “Could not her beliefs become my beliefs now? Her feelings, at least…” (465).
    It is easy for readers to assume Raskolnikov’s rebirth as a natural end to the story. Dostoevsky doesn’t quite give us that satisfaction. In the end, all he gives are hints. I would like to ask what Raskolnikov’s future would look like, after he is released from prison? Is the “one world to another” from the earthly world to the spiritual? What is the “undreamed-of reality?” The author either ran out of steam here or wanted to created ambiguity. My guess is the former.

  13. Brandt Silver-Korn says:

    I find the drama and “romance” driven emotions that surround Luzhin, Svidrigailov, Dunya, and Razumikhin to be one of the most enjoyable elements of the novel. It seems that Dostoevsky included the budding love between Razumikhin and Dunya to provide rays of hope and happiness amongst the heavy psychological and depressing tones that primarily exist throughout the book. As readers, we are presented with yet another unfortunate situation (as if themes of poverty, murder, etc. weren’t enough), as Luzhin’s “love” for the admirable and laudable Dunya looks fishy and foreboding from the start and on top of this, the appearance of the ominous Svidrigailov seems to foreshadow an imminently disastrous fate for Dunya. However, the introduction of Razumikhin and his innocent and endearing passion for Dunya slowly overpowers Luzhin’s and Svidrigailov’s suspiciousness as the plot progresses.

    This is obviously extremely pleasing for the reader as Razumikhin and Dunya are both sinless characters whom are selfless in the way that they look out for others. In addition to the happiness this scenario begins to exude, the interaction of these four previously mentioned characters highlights the eventual theme of fate (which I imagine was on the forefront of Dostoevsky’s mind as he was both a Russian and a very religious man). Luzhin and Svidrigailov endure fates very dissimilar to Dunya and Razumikhin and as a result, I can’t help but think that these four represent Dostoevsly’s feelings about Crime and Punishment (as it relates to a sinful or charitable existence) as much, if not more than the eventual fate of Raskolnikov.

  14. Rouan Yao says:

    Out of all the subplots within Crime and Punishment, Dunya’s story really resonates. Not only does Dunya take the initiative to engage herself to Luzhin in order to support her family and Raskolnikov, her rational, decisive actions foil Raskolnikov’s unstable, emotionally driven ones.

    When she chooses to push Luzhin by insisting that he meet with Raskolnikov and the rest of her family, she is consciously testing him of his character. Likewise, when an argument breaks out and Luzhin proves to be offensive, Dunya makes the decision that she does not need a man like Luzhin, and firmly orders him to leave, as well as cancels her engagement. Through her actions, it is clear that the welfare of the Raskolnikov family is very much in Dunya’s hands. In addition to this, we see that Dunya is a rational, calculating woman. Although she can be guided by her emotions (such as her devotion to her brother), she has shown that many of her actions (such as the decision to engage herself to Luzhin and to test Luzhin’s character) are guided by more calculated reason.

    Dunya’s strength as a female makes a very powerful statement about gender roles in that age. At a time when women were expected to be driven by emotions and men were seen as guided by rational tendencies, Dunya excels over Raskolnikov in the aspect of reason. Even though Raskolnikov constantly strives to convince himself that his actions are guided by reason (convincing himself that his murder of Alyona benefitted everyone, and not only himself, etc), his behavior is sporadic; they are guided by unstable emotions, so very far away from the rationalism which he strives for.

    Also, as an aside and an addition to Romany’s post, the fact that Raskolnikov can see his own philosophy and Sonya’s philosophy as the same astounds me and makes me lose sympathy for his character. Whereas Dunya’s philosophy allows herself to destroy her own Christian afterlife to support her family, Raskolnikov murders another for his own benefit. Yet somehow, he only sees the similarities in their actions: both are committing a sin against an innocent victim. The fact that he can liken his murder to Sonya’s sacrifice, and feel that the two of them share a special connection because of it, illustrates Raskolnikov’s deliriousness, despite the moments where compassion shines through.

  15. Flora Weeks says:

    One of the subplots I find most interesting, even though Dostoevsky doesn’t seem to give it too much attention, is that of Dunya’s feminine courage. Even though it is not a major plot line in the book, Dunya may be the first strong female character we have come across in this course. And the lack of strong female characters is particularly pronounced because of the many poor Liza’s we have encountered. It feels like we have discussed at least one poor liza example in each book we have read. On the other hand, the only strong female character I can think of is Odintsova from Fathers and Sons, and even she, while educated, opinionated, and holding a position of power, is cast in an almost negative light because of her relationship with Bazarov. The book seems to be relaying the message that she is too independent, and too strong-willed, when a proper woman should take a man and settle down.

    Even though Dunya is not developed as much as she could be, it is still refreshing to see such a strong female character. Dostoevsky still includes many weaker, more passive female characters in Crime and Punishment (Lizaveta, Katerina Ivanovna, Sonya, Pulcheria Alexandrovna). However, seeing a strong sibling relationship, such as Raskolnikov and Dunya have, seems to put men and women on an almost equal footing for the first time. Raskolnikov still attempts to do things to support and care for his sister, but in the end it is she who makes her own decisions and takes care of herself, even having to help her brother at times.

  16. Romany Redman says:

    Raskolnikov’s theory of the Extraordinary Man: Men are exempt from conventional morality and rationality by their own super-human genius. This genius is predetermined by a law of nature which dictates incidence of pockets of concentrated super-human genius.

    Sonya’s Alternative: Men are exempt from conventional morality and rationality (“for the wages of sin is death”) by a crazy powerful combo of faith and forgiveness.

    Similarities: Men are exempt from conventional morality.

    Differences: For Raskolnikov’s theory, there is something about the man himself. The above and beyond genius allows him to slip through general conventions. The genius is determined by an unknown law, implying uncertainty on the part of the individual to know to which group of beings, human or super human, they belong. Thus follows a detachment from fellow man if genius is suspected. From Sonya’s perspective, there is nothing inherently un-human or super human about any individual. In fact, he is completely normative, a part of a society, a person who relates to other people. The forgiveness comes not from a super genius that they possess themselves, but rather the supernatural power of an omniscient and loving god. With this view comes the powerful concept of faith. Faith is what makes forgiveness absolutely certain. It does not matter how lowly or how genius an individual is, he is guaranteed this promise of unconditional love through faith. Being able to share that faith with other individuals also plays an important role in the embodiment of forgiveness and reestablishment of that individual as a part of society.

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