Crime and Punishment

by: Fyodor Dostoevsky


Well, let me tell you, Rodion Romanovich, I don’t consider it necessary to justify myself; but I would be grateful if you could explain to me what was particularly criminal about how I behaved in all this, speaking without prejudice, with common sense?

Svidrigailov responds to Raskolnikov’s rudeness. After Svidrigailov asks Raskolnikov for his help getting Dunia’s interest, Raskolnikov quickly refuses and dismisses Svidrigailov’s request as ridiculous. After all, Svidrigailov’s depravity is well known. Here, Svidrigailov defends himself, arguing he simply lives as a man of instinct and passion, and acts out of natural impulses, not criminal ones. Like Raskolnikov, Svidrigailov has a distorted perception of himself.

“No, not very,” Svidrigailov answered, calmly. “And Marfa Petrovna and I scarcely ever fought. We lived harmoniously, and she was always pleased with me. I only used the whip twice in all our seven years …”

Svidrigailov continues to defend himself to Raskolnikov in an attempt to rally support in pursuing Dunia. Svidrigailov’s wife died, and rumors indicate that Svidrigailov might be responsible. Svidrigailov’s defense, however, seems credible: He claims he and Marfa never fought, and in fact, she acted as the dominant one in the relationship and took advantage of him. Yet Svidrigailov claims her ghost haunts him, which suggests guilt.

No, it’s better at home. Here at least you blame others for everything and excuse yourself.

Svidrigailov replies to Raskolnikov’s question as to whether he would have left his wife had she not cornered him into marriage by paying off his gambling debt. Svidrigailov responds no, since he felt too miserable to be anywhere else anyway. Like Raskolnikov, everywhere feels like hell to Svidrigailov. Svidrigailov’s statement mirrors Raskolnikov’s state of mind, since Raskolnikov uses his intellect to partly excuse himself for the murder he commits.

“I rarely lie,” answered Svidrigailov thoughtfully, apparently not noticing the rudeness of the question.

Svidrigailov replies to Raskolnikov’s accusing him of lying, appearing to be a character blithely unaware of social cues. He doesn’t pick up on when he isn’t welcome, nor does he pick up on when people are being rude to him. Most importantly, he doesn’t pick up on his own hypocrisy. Readers may believe Svidrigailov’s sincerity in saying that he rarely lies, since in every instance he speaks with brutal frankness, no matter how distorted his perception.

We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bathhouse in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is?

Svidrigailov speculates on the afterlife, envisioning an eternity similar to earthly reality. Unlike Raskolnikov, Svidrigailov can ultimately accept ideas about life that seem more realistic and less romantic . While both Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov approach life cynically, Raskolnikov operates more as an intellectual skeptic and Svidrigailov a realist. Svidrigailov can be satisfied thinking that eternity exists as nothing more than something as mundane as a room.

Wasn’t I right in saying that we were birds of a feather?

Svidrigailov uses an idiom to convey that he and Raskolnikov share the same nature and instincts. Raskolnikov finds himself more and more unsettled the longer he converses with Svidrigailov. What starts as a conversation about Dunia, drifts into a larger conversation about the afterlife. Svidrigailov’s bleak views terrify Raskolnikov, who fears Svidrigailov might be right. Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov are two birds of a feather, as pointed out by Svidrigailov, whether Raskolnikov likes the idea or not.

Oh, very well, for vice then. You insist that it’s vice. But anyway I like a direct question. In this vice at least there is something permanent, founded upon nature and not dependent on fantasy …

Svidrigailov responds to Raskolnikov’s condemnation of his seeking the company of women. Raskolnikov, disgusted by the vulgar way Svidrigailov talks about women, condemns him as a man of pure vice. Svidrigailov seems unruffled by Raskolnikov’s opinion. For Svidrigailov, his lust for women translates as simple passion, a natural instinct. Svidrigailov resembles Raskolnikov here as he tries to justify immorality and self-interest.

And once a girl’s heart is moved to pity, it’s more dangerous than anything. She is bound to want to ‘save him,’ to bring him to his senses, and life him up and draw him to nobler aims, and restore him to new life and usefulness—well, we all know how far such dreams can go.

Ironically, the scenario Svidrigailov describes here matches the situation between Sonia and Raskolnikov: Sonia’s heart pities Raskolnikov and she commits her life to him. Of course, Raskolnikov feels repulsed when he hears Svidrigailov speaking similarly of his sister, Dunia. Svidrigailov’s cynical view, that a woman’s pursuit to change a man is futile, has at least some merit in that the idea appears realistic.

To what a pitch of stupidity a man can be brought by frenzy!

Svidrigailov’s words spoken here must burn in Raskolnikov’s ears. Svidrigailov commenting on how his lust and passion for Dunia caused him to give her all his money, an act he judges as stupid. Raskolnikov must hear the resonance with his own murderous act undertaken in a frenzy of despair to become a sort of superman. Svidrigailov continues to function as a foil to Raskolnikov’s peace of mind.

“And … you can’t? Never?” he whispered in despair.

After Svidrigailov attempts to rape Dunia, he relents and simply asks her if she will ever love him. Dunia responds no. Svidrigailov, accepting her answer, gives her the key to leave. Shortly after, Svidrigailov kills himself with Dunia’s gun. Svidrigailov’s suicide serves as an act of acceptance—of the impossibility of his dreams, of reality, and finally, of who he is as a person—and so becomes an act of dignity.