What was taking place in him was totally unfamiliar, new, sudden, never before experienced. Not that he understood it, but he sensed clearly, with all the power of sensation, that it was no longer possible for him to address these people in the police station, not only with heartfelt effusions, as he had just done, but in any way at all, and had they been his own brothers and sisters, and not police lieutenants, there would still have been no point in this addressing them, in whatever circumstances of life.
This quote, from Part II, Chapter I, illustrates Raskolnikov’s sudden realization that by murdering Alyona and Lizaveta, he has completely isolated himself from society. His separation, which began before the murders, is now complete, as he has truly crossed over the bounds that formerly kept him tied to the rest of humanity. Indeed, one can argue that only because of his increasing alienation and lack of empathy for other people is Raskolnikov able to actually commit the murders. Additionally, the act of having physically accomplished the crime makes it necessary for Raskolnikov to cement his understanding of himself as a “superman” so that he can evade the bothersome, banal consequences of his actions. Much of the novel is concerned with Raskolnikov’s gradual breakdown and deconstruction of this identity in the face of his alienation from others. Only when he confesses his guilt to Sonya, someone whom he sees as a fellow transgressor of morality, does he start on the path of rejoining society.
I’ve known Rodion for a year and a half: sullen, gloomy, arrogant, proud; recently (and maybe much earlier) insecure and hypochondriac. Magnanimous and kind. Doesn’t like voicing his feelings, and would rather do something cruel than speak his heart out in words. At times, however, he’s not hypochondriac at all, but just inhumanly cold and callous, as if there really were two opposite characters in him, changing places with each other. At times he’s terribly taciturn! He’s always in a hurry, always too busy, yet he lies there doing nothing. Not given to mockery, and not because he lacks sharpness but as if he had no time for such trifles. Never hears people out to the end. Is never interested in what interests everyone else at a given moment. Sets a terribly high value on himself and, it seems, not without a certain justification.
Razumikhin offers this description of Raskolnikov in Part III, Chapter II, to Sonya and Pulcheria Alexandrovna. His comments emphasize Raskolnikov’s key character traits of self-centeredness, intelligence, and simultaneous cruelty and kindness. However, the informal, ungrammatical, and free-flowing tone of Razumikhin’s remarks contributes to the seeming inconsistency of his words (“magnanimous and kind . . . inhumanly cold and callous”). The specific mention of “two opposite characters in him” seems to point to the unrelenting tension that Raskolnikov experiences as a result of his conflicting desire to confess and to evade capture. As a whole, this impressionistic depiction captures Raskolnikov’s essential schismatic nature: he has detached himself from humanity and thus only engages in social behavior when it fits his needs.
Additionally, this passage sets up Razumikhin as Raskolnikov’s foil, emphasizing the contrast between Razumikhin’s friendliness and good nature and Raskolnikov’s sullenness and antisocial nature. This difference constitutes strong counterevidence to the argument that Raskolnikov is compelled to commit the murders because of difficult circumstances in life. Razumikhin, like his friend, is a desperately poor ex-student, but he never even considers, much less commits, such a crime. To the contrary, he seems genuinely happy and takes a great deal of pleasure in life.
The old woman was a mistake perhaps, but she’s not the point! The old woman was merely a sickness . . . I was in a hurry to step over . . . it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle! So I killed the principle, but I didn’t step over, I stayed on this side . . . All I managed to do was kill. And I didn’t even manage that, as it turns out . . .
This ranting comes from Part III, Chapter VI, when Raskolnikov is lying in bed thinking to himself. The language, with its abrupt phrases and frequent use of ellipses, reflects Raskolnikov’s fractured state of mind. It also shows that Raskolnikov is still trapped in a Napoleonic mindset—he believes that the only thing that matters is success in one’s endeavors. Raskolnikov feels anxious not because he is a murderer but because he is an unsuccessful murderer, unable to use the crime to his advantage and dismiss the guilt from his mind. His need to assure himself of the intellectualized motivations for Alyona Ivanovna’s murder (“it wasn’t a human being I killed, it was a principle!”) and his frantic, repetitive justification of his crime (“I stayed on this side”) reveal his insecurity about the whole matter and accentuate how unlike his “superman” ideal he is. This quote also foreshadows Raskolnikov’s stubborn protest to Dunya in Part VI, Chapter VII, that the murder itself was not wrong, only his failure to profit from it.
What is it, to run away! A mere formality; that’s not the main thing; no, he won’t run away on me by a law of nature, even if he has somewhere to run to. Have you ever seen a moth near a candle? Well, so he’ll keep circling around me, circling around me, as around a candle; freedom will no longer be dear to him, he’ll fall to thinking, get entangled, he’ll tangle himself all up as in a net, he’ll worry himself to death! . . . he’ll keep on making circles around me, narrowing the radius more and more, and—whop! He’ll fly right into my mouth, and I’ll swallow him, sir, and that will be most agreeable, heh, heh, heh!
Porfiry Petrovich speaks these words in Part IV, Chapter V, when Raskolnikov goes to Porfiry’s office with the ostensible purpose of reclaiming his pawned possessions. This quotation gives the reader a sense of Porfiry’s style of speech, energetic to the point of being frantic. It also demonstrates his method of focusing on the psychological aspects of the case, a method that seems to have been Dostoevsky’s as well. Porfiry’s confidence that Raskolnikov “won’t run away on me by a law of nature”—that because he is human, Raskolnikov ultimately will not be able to evade his guilt—provides a sense of inevitability that Raskolnikov will either confess or go mad. Additionally, in Dostoevsky’s writing, every character serves a specific function in the plot; we know that Porfiry’s certainty of Raskolnikov’s guilt will not rest idle for long. This subtle tension contributes to the novel’s suspense throughout.
Finally, Porfiry functions as a mirror for Raskolnikov. His diatribe here seems tinged with the same obsessive, almost mad, tone as Raskolnikov’s monologues. He is the only character whose intelligence is a match for Raskolnikov’s. As such, the magistrate seems at times less like a real person and more like an imaginary conscience, pointing out the moves of Raskolnikov’s mind to Raskolnikov and constantly reminding him that he will be found out eventually.
How it happened he himself did not know, but suddenly it was as if something lifted him and flung him down at her feet. He wept and embraced her knees. For the first moment she was terribly frightened, and her whole face went numb. She jumped up and looked at him, trembling. But all at once, in that same moment, she understood everything. Infinite happiness lit up in her eyes; she understood, and for her there was no longer any doubt that he loved her, loved her infinitely, and that at last the moment had come. . . .
This quotation comes from the Epilogue, at the climactic moment in which Sonya finally realizes that Raskolnikov truly loves her. The significance is both personal and public, since by showing that he loves a particular person, Raskolnikov demonstrates that he is willing to take his place as a member of society once again. The tears that Raskolnikov sheds represent his remorse over his sins and, perhaps, his joy in realizing that Sonya, the lone individual with whom he has enjoyed a meaningful relationship, loves him. It is only when he realizes that he truly cares for another person that Raskolnikov is finally able to break his alienation from humanity and begin to sincerely repent for his crimes. This newfound love injects his life with fresh meaning and, one can argue, releases him from the bond of his destructive nihilism.
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