Category: Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

The castle of aaaaaaaah

by Andrea Elizabeth

I replied to a Facebook comment that talking is overrated. Talking is mostly good for catharsis. It is a funeral to gain closure for something that has died. A eulogy. Take for example the law of Moses. This was necessary because man had fallen so far that they had no conscience. Except for a couple of guys. These guys naturally did right without being told. They had to instruct people, so their words were because of dead consciences, not living ones. 

Story-telling is similar. Something bad happened and it needed to be told to gain closure and maybe instruct ignorant people. Charles Dickens and Dostoyevsky had terrible pasts. 

But what about love and beauty? These words are also testaments of winter. If there were not scarcity of experience, we would not need to be reminded. If there were abundance, we would still need no reminder and probably would not appreciate one.

So words are eulogies said when something has passed.


by Andrea Elizabeth

I am having a lot of trouble reading these days. Books are usually so negatively focused. What if my wildest fears happened? I wonder how many authors could be diagnosed as paranoid. I’m already paranoid enough. Of course Stephen King is a master at it. I’m dabbling at The Shining on ibooks and 11-22-63 on audible mainly because King is such a good psychologist ,and he also believes in the spiritual world. He has said that his monsters are actually his alcoholism. And maybe that’s why I gravitate towards him, he fears himself above all. The dad in the Shining turns out to be the monster, so it is confusing to believe that he loves his kid so much, but with provocation can turn on him so. To have him go so far toward evil – I’m not that far in the book but I remember the movie, which I know is different – is almost like a betrayal of onesself. Unless you identify with the kid and the dad is your vice, whatever that is. It’s interesting that the vices initially bring good experiences.

Crime and Punishment tried to meticulously explain how a nice guy that you can identify with turns into a murderer. I confess I had a little break in my suspension of disbelief at the transition. Murder and promiscuity are so abhorrent that I couldn’t see how characters I identify with can turn that corner. But alcohol and food addiction are much more palatable, shall we say. And a temper flare makes it easier than premeditation. I don’t think an identifiable character can premeditatedly commit murder. There has to be something off with him that makes him other. Suicide? Maybe in a frenzy, but not cool, calm and collected.

Carol in Walking Dead is the closest to an identifiable character calmly killing, but I think her world was so lost that something in her broke and she is not firing on all cylinders even though she’s pretty functional and loyal to the group.

I discovered Duplex Saturday and think it is a brilliant exposee of how normal, nice, identifiable people can be driven. It’s hillarious. See it with Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore, directed by Danny DeVito on Netflix streaming.

Character studies

by Andrea Elizabeth

Crime and Punishment (6) Probably the last.

This morning I finished it, two days later than I planned. It’s been a busy and emotional week with dr.’s visits, diagnostic tests, and the usual scheduled things.

It turns out that what drove Raskolnikov to commit the murder is the central theme of the book, much to my psychological liking. The way it is built up is so well done that I don’t want to give it all away, yet I’ll probably end up thinking about two of the general reasons. What I related to more, however, being female, was the unfolding of how “virtuous” women fall. There was one common basic reason – vanity and pride, but with the murder, power was another motivation. It’s more complicated than that, with more variables and “reasons”, but like I said, I don’t want to give that away or cheapen it by over-simplification.

I believe that the thirst for power may be a significant difference between men and women. I’m sure women seek power too, but for the most part it is manifested much differently. Men are usually the ones who start wars and commit jailable crimes, generally speaking. It probably speaks to their need to be dominant, in control, and successful. When they aren’t, something must be done. This doesn’t have to be a selfish drive, as women do look to men for provision and guidance. When things don’t work out, it causes a lot of stress. Dostoevsky is very good at describing stress.

There are ways that women have traditionally exerted their power (I’m ignoring modern role reversal for now), one of which Dostoevsky talks about in this book is the need to save or change a man in distress. This propensity is how women can become victims of rascally men who indeed do need to be saved and changed. Proud, moral women are particularly susceptible.

Along with pride, feeling intellectually superior was another contributing factor to Raskolnikov’s crime. Intelligence was one criteria for what makes an “extraordinary” person justified in committing crimes, the same as Napoleon and other war starters supposedly are. How is sending thousands to their deaths to kill thousands different from getting rid of “an old crone” who is of no use to anyone? I’ll go ahead and spill that his lack of confidence and clarity for this right during the murder was what compromised his success in his own eyes. I have heard before that arrogance and insecurity often go hand in hand. I guess that Raskolnikov was generally more charitable than Napoleon, and so he couldn’t pull it off as well. It was this charitable disposition though that earned him sympathy from the other characters who weren’t convinced of his mental justifications. They mercifully saw his condition more broadly.

Disdaining life was another theme that applied both to Raskolnikov and to Sonya. I do not know how virtuously that fits in a comparison to being too attached to earthly things in a passionate way, but I’ve already talked about that in an earlier C&P post (linked in the blue category at the top of this post, “Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment”).

There is a very intriguing point made at Ora et Labora in Gilead Revisited about Dostoevsky’s characters:

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is by far the most profound and truly edifying piece of fiction I have read for a very, very long time. Robinson’s novel, to my mind, is comparable in spiritual depth to anything written by Chekhov, Flannery O’Conner, or C. S. Lewis. It is also the first novel I have read whose hero is a genuinely good person (something that no less an author than Dostoevsky was unable to accomplish).

It seems to me that Alyosha and Raskolnikov’s friend, Razumikhin could be criticized for being too naive and perhaps effeminate. By the way, some women take offense at the idea that a man being womanish is considered such an insult. I think unmanly is a better word than effeminate, but would also point out that prissiness, excessive naivete, and air-headedness aren’t virtuous characteristics for women either. I like very much that Sonya and Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya, aren’t effeminate in those ways. Perhaps the author of Ora et Labora is speaking of a genuinely good male, or central character. Sonya and Dunya have supporting roles. I’ve put Gilead on my Amazon wish list, but my stack is so big!

Next, War and Peace!

That they may believe

by Andrea Elizabeth

Crime and Punishment (5)

This passage reminds me of today’s Saint, The Samaritan Woman, though it’s too early to tell what will become of Sonya, who is reading from the fourth Gospel.

“‘Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth…‘”

(she read loudly and rapturously, trembling and growing cold, as if she were seeing it with her own eyes: )

“‘… bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, “Loose him, and let him go.

“‘Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.‘”

Beyond that she did not and could not read; she closed the book and got up quickly from her chair.

“That’s all about the raising of Lazarus,” she whispered abruptly and sternly, and stood motionless, turned away, not daring and as if ashamed to raise her eyes to him. Her feverish trembling continued. The candle-end had long been burning out in the bent candlestick, casting a dim light in this destitute room upon the murderer and the harlot strangely come together over the reading of the eternal book. Five minutes or more passed.

“I came to talk about business,” Raskolnikov suddenly spoke loudly, and, frowning, he rose and went to Sonya. She looked up at him silently. His face was especially stern, and some wild resolution was expressed in it.

“I left my family today,” he said, “my mother and sister. I won’t go to them now. I’ve broken with everything there.

“Why?” Sonya asked, as if stunned. Her meeting earlier with his mother and sister had left an extraordinary impression on her, though one not yet clear to herself. She heard the news of the break almost with horror.

“I have only you now,” he added. “Let’s go together … I’ve come to you. We’re cursed together, so let’s go together!”

His eyes were flashing. “He’s crazy,” Sonya thought in her turn.

“Go where?” she asked in fear, and involuntarily stepped back.

“How do I know? I only know that it’s on the same path, I know it for certain – that’s all. One goal!”

She went on looking at him, understanding nothing. She understood only that he was terribly, infinitely unhappy.

“None of them will understand anything, if you start talking with them,” he continued, “but I understand. I need you, and so I’ve come to you.”

“I don’t understand…” Sonya whispered.

“You’ll understand later… Haven’t you done the same thing? You too, have stepped over… were able to step over. You laid hands on yourself, you destroyed a life… your own (it’s all the same!). You might have lived by the spirit and reason, but you’ll end up on the Haymarket… But you can’t endure it, and if you remain alone, you’ll lose your mind, like me. You’re nearly crazy already; so we must go together, on the same path! Let’s go!”

“Why? Why do you say that?” Sonya said, strangely and rebelliously stirred by his words.

“Why? Because it’s impossible to remain like this- that’s why! It’s necessary finally to reason seriously and directly, and not weep and cry like a child that God will not allow it! What if you are indeed taken to the hospital tomorrow? That woman is out of her mind and consumptive, she’ll die soon, and the children? Won’t Polechka be destroyed? Haven’t you seen children here on the street corners, sent out by their mothers to beg? I’ve learned where these mothers live, and in what circumstances. Children cannot remain children there. There a seven-year-old is depraved and a theif. But children are the image of Christ: ‘Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He taught us to honor and love them, they are the future mankind…”

“But what, what can be done, then?” Sonya repeated, weeping hysterically and wringing her hands.

“What can be done? Smash what needs to be smashed, once and for all, and that’s it – and take the suffering upon ourselves! What? You don’t understand? You’ll understand later…” (p. 328,329)

I confess I don’t understand and hope that I will by the end of the book, but I am relieved that both of them have possibly found allies who aren’t so naive. She crossed the line to presumably help her family, but he, it’s still not clear. In another conversation he spoke of an article he’d written in law school about extraordinary people being justified in committing certain crimes. He also spoke of crimes being caused by ill-ordered societies. Perhaps he thought he was helping society by getting rid of a menace.

Yet he’s still paranoid about giving himself away. Again I am struck by everyone’s need to read between the lines to find out what people are really thinking. People are loathe to say things directly so far to and about Raskolnikov. He is too. I guess that provides the tension in the story.

Broken hearts and desperate times

by Andrea Elizabeth

Crime and Punishment (4) to page 240.

I must take a break from my reading for two reasons. This is an intense book, and I want to say that I think it’s finally been revealed why Raskolnikov gave up his studies and his tutoring positions and descended into his morbid thinking. He just said, if he is to believed in his current state, he was in love with his fiancée who died before their wedding. The fact of his being engaged has previously been handled as an insignificant aside, perhaps as an obligation to his landlady. But apparently she didn’t approve of his marrying her sickly, homely daughter. So if he was truly in love with her and she died, perhaps his heart broke and he lost his attachment to the world and its aspirations and rules.

I find Dostoevsky refreshingly honest in his dealings with people’s thoughts, feelings and motivations. Brothers Karamazov‘s characters acted in a more random fashion that I didn’t like as well as this more focused analysis. They say Dostoevsky’s characters personify ideas, and maybe BK’s ideas were more about changing whims, such as Alyosha’s intended, Lise, had,  as did Dmitri. I didn’t like how open-ended things were. Hopefully these characters in Crime and Punishment will follow a more deeply seated, consistent course and not be so easily thrown off track.

Back to C&P, I’m a little bothered about how sympathetically Raskolnikov is written. Rooting for a murderer doesn’t seem right, but I’ll keep an open mind. I faced the same dilemma with Dmitri in Brothers Karamazov, however I’m still not sure if he did it. I think Dostoevsky’s intention in being sympathetic to murderers is to show that we could all be capable of such an act. After all, ‘if one calls his brother a fool he is guilty of murder’. I tend to think though that there is a line between thinking and acting, but maybe it’s grayer than I imagine. Should committing such a crime be more unthinkable than writing someone off? The disciples were told to shake the dust off their feet in towns where their message wasn’t received, so there must be a difference. I suppose it’s hatred. Surely they weren’t to hate those who rejected them as the Beatitudes say.

I think Dostoevsky is seeking to dispel social prejudices. A humble task.

Raskolnikov’s despondency and desperate circumstances have perhaps been explained, but it still seems a leap for him to start thinking about murdering the Pawn lady. Apparently she used people, including her half-sister, very badly and capitalized on their misfortunes, but does Dostoevsky think that the unpardonable sin? Should profiteers be vilified to that extent and murderers be contrastingly “understood”? Or does it go back to the heart – are userers murderers in their heart? I still think there’s a line, but those who haven’t crossed it should take more care of their thoughts just the same.

Dispassion vs. Despair or Clothes make the man

by Andrea Elizabeth

Crime and Punishment (3)

By page 170, Raskolnikov is fighting the urge to give himself up to the authorities. He treats all that he has, friends, possessions, money, with total disregard even though he does the bare minimum to keep himself alive by taking sips and crumbs of food and refraining from full confession. Yet when he indulges in activities to keep himself alive, he immediately gives even that up by frenzied activity and thoughtless conversation. He is teetering on the edge of self-destruction.

“Where was it,” Raskolnikov thought as he walked on, “where was it that I read about a man condemned to death saying or thinking, an hour before his death, that if he had to live somewhere high up on a cliffside, on a ledge so narrow that there was room only for his two feet – and with the abyss, the ocean, eternal darkness, eternal solitude, eternal storm all around him – and had to stay like that, on a square foot of space, an entire lifetime, a thousand years, an eternity – it would be better to live so than to die right now! Only to live, to live, to live! To live, no matter how – only to live! … How true! Lord, how true! Man is a scoundrel! And he’s a scoundrel who calls him a scoundrel for that,” he added in a moment. (p. 158)

This is not the first time Dostoevsky talks about “a man condemned to death”, which alludes to his real life-transforming encounter with death by firing squad.

Except for Rasnikov’s ravings and frenzy, the way he treats his possessions and attachments can seem like dispassionate detachment from earthly cares. His obsession is with getting caught though. If anyone starts to suspect him he either becomes frantic or comes close to giving himself away. Even while the murder was in the planning stages, Raskolnikov was obsessed with the thought that something about his appearance might give him away. “They” will know his secret based on clothing such as his worn hat. Clothes as evidence reminds me of Hannibal Lecter in the movie, Silence of the Lambs, being able to tell about Clarice by what type of shoes she wore. Being aware that someone can tell something you are embarassed about by your clothes gives me pause for thought. Even if a person hasn’t committed a crime, they can worry about their poverty or some sort of neglect being evidenced by a spot or tear in their clothing. In our society we are so ashamed of these things. It’s as if the revelation of dirt under the nails or an untweezed eyebrow hair makes one conspicuously unacceptable. The Pharisees are admonished for only worrying about outer cleanliness, and not about “the inside of the cup”. But lest one make too gnostic a divide, surely the inside and outside are related. Slovenliness can indicate a generalized carelessness. But Athonite monks are known for being unwashed, so …. hmm.

Back to dispassion, I find this quote from Ora Et Labora on St. Gregory Palamas helpful:

The sixth section is directed against those who do not “acknowledge that spiritual dispositions are stamped upon the body as a consequence of the gifts of the Spirit” abiding in the soul and also against those who regard dispassion as a “deathlike condition of the soul’s passible aspect” rather than “a state of aspiration for higher things.” Instead, the soul “communicates its joy to the body too, and this joy which then fills both soul and body is a true recalling of incorruptible life.” Those saints who have acquired grace “see both with the sense of sight and with the intellect that surpasses both sense and intellect.” The body participates in the deifying energies, and this is an eschatological foretaste of the resurrection of the body.

Raskolnikov hardly fits that description.

Raskolnikov’s descent into crime

by Andrea Elizabeth

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (2)

So far (by page 63), the motivations of the murderer for the murder that is given away on the back cover are

1. Traumatic childhood experience of witnessing an old nag being brutally beaten to death by drunk people exiting a tavern. R dissolves into tears as he wipes the old mare’s bloody eyes. But what brings about the change from sympathy to the old nag to wishing the old pawnshop lady’s brutal death? His father’s refusal to help the poor mare? We become our parents? I don’t think it’s been explained what happened to his father yet.

2. Extreme poverty brought about by self-destructive behavior. He dropped out of school and tutoring for some reason I’m not sure of yet. His current paranoid state is probably also influenced by near starvation. Brutal killing aside, he wants to steal the old lady’s money to pay his rent.

3. New perfect opportunity presents itself right after he’d resolved not to kill her after all.

4. Dostoevsky describes in painful detail the process of habitual fantasy becoming a seeming inevitability despite moments of repentance.

More unanswered questions

1. If he sympathizes with his mother and sister so strongly and is willing to sacrifice himself for them instead of letting his sister sacrifice herself for him, why is he so callous towards the old lady?

2. If he cares so much about money, enough to kill for it, why is he willing to give the little he has away to anyone he perceives as in need?

And what about these?

by Andrea Elizabeth

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (I). Translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

Right off the bat Marmeladov’s speech is quite the discomforting thing. Fyodor Karamazov wasn’t as disturbing because I didn’t believe that he cared about anyone, therefore rendering him an unsympathetic character in his debauchery. He obviously gets what’s coming to him. Dmitri seems to be able to talk himself through everything, so I didn’t suffer much on his behalf either. Marmeladov in this story, however, seems to be somewhat honorable and to love his family, so his admitted neglect of them provides more tension. It reminds me of Gregory Peck’s (I’ll always be on his side) portrayal of Dostoevsky’s Gambler. I couldn’t stand that his addiction to gambling took him over as it did. I had to turn the channel when he made his fatal mistake. As much as Marmeladov elicits sympathy, his family does more, even his daughter’s wicked stepmother, his wife because he is ultimately the one who drives them to their sinfulness.

Yet he believes God will forgive all and even call forth drunkards such as he.

“‘Come forth, my drunk ones, my weak ones, my shameless ones!’ And we will all come forth, without being ashamed, and stand there. And He will say, ‘Swine you are! Of the image of the beast and of his seal; but come, you, too!’ And the wise and the reasonable will say unto Him, ‘Lord, why do you receive such as these?’ And He will say, ‘I receive them, my wise and reasonable ones, forasmuch as not one of them considered himself worthy of this thing…’ And He will stretch out His arms to us, and we will fall at His feet…and weep… and understand everything! …and everyone will understand…and Katarina Ivanovna…she, too, will understand…Lord, Thy kingdom come!” (p. 23)

Maybe so.