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Raskolnikov is in prison in Siberia. He has been there for nine months, and a year and a half has passed since the murders. At his trial, Raskolnikov confessed to the crime, establishing his guilt by explaining why Lizaveta was murdered and identifying the location of the stolen goods. The examining magistrates and judges had trouble believing that Raskolnikov would not know how much money was in the stolen purse, which was hidden under the rock along with the pawned items, but the psychologists at the trial explained this ignorance as a symptom of his temporary insanity and “monomania.” The testimony of his friends corroborated his deteriorated condition. Raskolnikov himself refused to offer or accept any defense of his actions, although he told the court that he sincerely repented his crime. He received a relatively light punishment, largely because Porfiry Petrovich kept silent about his knowledge of Raskolnikov’s guilt, which enabled Raskolnikov to confess without being forced. He thereby saved Nikolai from wrongful punishment. Razumikhin also testified to Raskolnikov’s acts of charity while at the university, and his landlady testified about his heroism during a fire. Five months after first confessing, Raskolnikov was sentenced to eight years of hard labor in Siberia. Sonya went with him, while Razumikhin, Dunya, and Pulcheria Alexandrovna stayed in St. Petersburg. Before leaving St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov realized that his mother was on the verge of death.
Two months later, Razumikhin and Dunya married. They attempted to keep the truth about Raskolnikov’s crime and imprisonment from his mother, but she eventually became delirious and died, revealing her knowledge of her son’s fate before her death. Sonya serves as a link between the family in St. Petersburg and Raskolnikov in prison. She also lightens Raskolnikov’s burden in the prison by winning favor with the authorities. Eventually, Raskolnikov falls dangerously ill and spends some time in the hospital.
Infinite happiness lit up in her eyes . . . he loved her, loved her infinitely, and . . . at last the moment had come. . . .
The narrator tells us that Raskolnikov does not mind the conditions of prison life but that his pride has been deeply wounded. He still believes that there was nothing wrong with his character and that what he did was not a sin but simply “an error.” He considers his choice of confession over suicide the result of weakness rather than “a presentiment of future resurrection and a new life.” The other prisoners don’t like him much, though they adore Sonya. While Raskolnikov is ill, he has a dream that a virus is sweeping the country. The virus causes its victims to suffer a madness that causes each to think him- or herself the sole possessor of truth. People cannot get along and so tear each other apart.
Throughout Raskolnikov’s imprisonment, Sonya comes to visit, sitting outside where Raskolnikov can see her from his window. One day, she manages to meet him outside. They sit next to each other for a moment, holding hands. Previously, when they had such opportunities and held hands, Raskolnikov felt a sense of revulsion. But this time is different. He collapses in tears and embraces her. They both realize that he truly loves her. They resolve to wait out the remaining seven years of his prison term. That evening, Raskolnikov thinks about Sonya and experiences the ecstasy of love. From underneath his pillow he takes a copy of the New Testament that Sonya had given him. He feels at one with her. The narrator closes the novel by stating that this man’s renewal is the matter of another story.
Some critics have argued that the Epilogue is an unnecessary and heavy-handed end to a novel that stands quite well without it. They criticize the dream of the virus spreading through Europe, the blossoming of Raskolnikov’s love for Sonya, and the death of Raskolnikov’s mother as blunt attempts to tie up the story and simplistic treatments of issues that the body of the novel deals with in much more complex and open-ended ways. This analysis notwithstanding, the Epilogue serves to develop several of the important themes of the novel, particularly those of alienation and religious redemption. At the end of Part VI, we are left in doubt as to the ultimate consequences of Raskolnikov’s confession. The suspense that this doubt creates drives the reader into the Epilogue in search of answers. The descriptions of Raskolnikov’s life in prison confirm that Raskolnikov, despite having confessed, is not yet truly repentant of his crime. Convinced that his crime was an “error,” not a sin, he remains isolated from his fellow inmates, even as Sonya befriends them.
The recounting of the trial, a locus of objective analytical attitudes about Raskolnikov, demonstrates the disparity between Raskolnikov’s perception of himself and others’ perceptions of him. His friends testified to the degeneration of his mind, and the court officials assumed that he must be mentally deranged since he didn’t even make use of the money and goods that he stole from Alyona. The testimonies of Razumikhin and the landlady about Raskolnikov’s acts of goodness emphasize further how Raskolnikov’s mental health was in serious decline by the time that he committed the murders. The narrator describes Raskolnikov’s claims of repentance as exaggerated and coarse; Raskolnikov continues to cling to a belief in the morality, even nobility, of the murder of Alyona Ivanovna. Unwilling to let go of this belief, he is again forced to confront his mediocrity in the realm of the subconscious. His dream about the virus is aimed at stripping him of feelings of superiority, as the insanity and belief in the self as the sole possessor of truth infects everyone, thus dragging Raskolnikov back into the quagmire of banal humanity.