Crime and Punishment

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Raskolnikov

“I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles,” he thought, with an odd smile.

Raskolnikov, a desperate man, alludes to a plan that requires some courage while he cowardly hides from his landlady. Although the reader doesn’t yet know what he contemplates, Raskolnikov feels his shame so intensely that he grimaces. As he slips out, Raskolnikov debates with himself about the serious action he considers taking. In comparing his daring plan to the Jack and the Beanstalk nursery rhyme, Raskolnikov wonders if he fantasizes. Readers don’t have much time to build sympathy for Raskolnikov before he reveals he has unstable, dangerous thoughts.

I simply hinted that an ‘extraordinary’ man has the right … that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep … certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity).

Porfiry grills Raskolnikov about the ideas in his essay “On Crime” in an attempt to build psychological evidence against Raskolnikov, whom readers understand Porfiry already suspects. Here, Raskolnikov reluctantly engages in discussion, partly because he’s flattered by Porfiry’s interest in his ideas. Raskolnikov’s idea that a superior man has the right in certain cases to consider himself above social and moral laws reflects an example of nihilism.

I know and will tell … you, only you. I have chosen you. I’m not coming to you to ask forgiveness, but simply to tell you.

Remarkably, Raskolnikov chooses Sonia, a poor prostitute, to confess his crime to. To Raskolnikov, Sonia—a devout Christian and one of the most compassionate characters in the novel—symbolizes hope. By confessing his crime to Sonia, Raskolnikov sees a path towards redemption. Notably, Raskolnikov doesn’t ask for forgiveness.

Yes, that’s what it was! I wanted to become Napoleon, that is why I killed her … Do you understand now?

After confessing his crime to Sonia, Raskolnikov tries to piece together a satisfactory explanation for what he did. Sonia assumes Raskolnikov killed the pawnbroker from the crushing effects of poverty, and he partly explained his motive as such. But such an explanation doesn’t represent the entire truth. Raskolnikov says he’s killed out of a desire to prove something to himself: He can act.

I’ve only killed a louse, Sonia, a useless, loathsome, harmful creature.

Raskolnikov’s explanation for the murders meanders and seems at once pitiful and sympathetic. With his comment that he’s only killed a louse, the reader knows that Raskolnikov still doesn’t feel what he did was completely wrong. Notably, Raskolnikov calls his landlady a louse, but maintains that he is not one himself, even though he murdered another human being.

“Perhaps I’ve been unfair to myself,” he observed gloomily, pondering, “perhaps after all I am a man and not a louse and I’ve been in too great a hurry to condemn myself. I’ll make another fight for it.” A haughty smile appeared on his lips.

Raskolnikov’s schizophrenic confession to Sonia reveals how he passes from idea to idea, trying to link together his intellect and his emotion in a plausible and cohesive picture of the motives behind his crime. Raskolnikov ends his erratic thinking with a strange smile—a physical manifestation of his feelings of superiority.

And the hideousness, the filthiness of all your surroundings, doesn’t that affect you? Have you lost the strength to stop yourself?

After Raskolnikov finds Svidrigailov in a café, the two engage in a tense conversation. Raskolnikov asks how Svidrigailov can feel comfortable with himself skulking around seedy places and engaging in depraved behavior. The comment appears, to a degree, hypocritical since Raskolnikov felt so affected by the hideousness of his living situation that he didn’t have the strength to stop himself from committing murder.

“I dare say. I can see I’m ridiculous myself,” muttered Raskolnikov angrily.

Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov’s discussion in the café ends with Svidrigailov telling him he has found a young girl to prey upon. Raskolnikov feels disgusted, and Svidrigailov explains that he tells him these things simply to see his reaction. Svidrigailov couldn’t care less what Raskolnikov thinks. When Svidrigailov says this, Raskolnikov experiences a moment of self-awareness, recognizing his reactions as ridiculous, especially for an intellectual like himself.

“No doubt it is a pleasure for a worn-out profligate to describe such adventures with a monstrous project of the same sort in his mind—especially under such circumstances and to a person like me…It’s stimulating!”

After recognizing himself as ridiculous for being outraged by Svidrigailov’s pursuing a fifteen-year-old girl, Raskolnikov makes a complete turnaround and says that their conversation is actually stimulating. In so doing, Raskolnikov implicitly and explicitly identifies himself with Svidrigailov, acknowledging they’re both depraved. This acknowledgment is noteworthy in that Raskolnikov might actually see himself as less a superman and more a louse, something he calls his landlady.

I have come to tell you that though you will be unhappy, you must believe that your son loves you now more than himself, and that everything you thought about me, that I was cruel and didn’t care about you, was all a mistake.

Raskolnikov speaks these words during his a final visit with his mother. Pulcheria feels overjoyed to see her son, and tells him she has read his essay on crime and is extremely proud. Raskolnikov, now disgusted by his essay, pushes the paper aside and tells her she has to leave. Raskolnikov’s anguish seems complicated. While he claims he loves his family more than himself, he murdered not for them, but for himself.