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Dostoevsky, C&P, Parts 3-4


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So far...
As you continue reading, and for the purposes of the online discussion, I'd like you to keep thinking about the ideas and issues we started working on in yesterday's class. A summary follows:

"Crime" and "Punishment"
The novel's title invites us to reflect on a number of issues:

  1. it authorizes us to think in terms of the binary oppositions or "CFDs" (clumsy fake dichotomies) along that structure the novel: not just "Crime"/"Punishment," but, say, rational/irrational, shame/guilt....? I'm sure you can think of others.
  2. it invites us to consider the meanings of those two terms, "Crime" and "Punishment": what do we understand by each? For example, is beating (as suffered by Marmeladov, Lizaveta, the mare of Raskolnikov's dream....) a crime or a punishment?
  3. Along those lines, it behooves us to bear in mind that the Russian word for "Crime" is prestuplenie, meaning literally "trans-gression": a step across or over. Think about what the implied boundaries are and what it means to cross them: In our experience throughout Lit. Hum., boundary crossing has been a defining characteristic of heroism, portrayed sometimes as a heroic feat (e.g., Odysseus's crossing to the Underworld); sometimes as a tragic overreach (Croesus crosses the river Halys to make war in Persia) or fatal catalyst (Oedipus transgresses the boundaries of blood relationship); sometimes as a noble sacrifice (God, in the person of Jesus, crosses the boundary between divinity and humanity in order to assume the burden of human sin; Darcy crosses class boundaries to assume the burden of Lydia and Wickham's sin). What boundaries come into play in C&P, and what is at stake in the crossing of them?

    Raskolnikov (whose own name comes from the Russian word for "split" or "schism," raskol, implying that he himself straddles some sort of boundary) is presented by his mother (p. 216) as one who "steps over" obstacles, and Raskolnikov himself alludes to this idea of "crossing" on p. 227: "...and you'll come to a certain line, and if you don't cross it you'll be unhappy, and if you do, maybe you'll be even more unhappy..." This brings us back to the question of the CFDs that underpin the novel: what is Raskolnikov "split" between, and what "lines" or boundaries is he concerned with crossing?

    We can link these questions to the one Noel brought up at the end of Tuesday's class: Given that Raskolnikov is repeatedly identified as a "student" (albeit a "former" one), what is he a student of, and what is he trying to learn?

Raskolnikov's dream
In class we embarked upon a reading of Raskolnikov's first dream (pp. 54ff), in which we identified a chain of symbolic resonances stretching both backward into the experiences of Raskolnikov's that immediately precede his dream, and forward into what he will do subsequently (the murder). The elements of the dream are as follows:

 laughing peasants: "Whip her to death!"
heavy load --- weak horse, female, old --- no motion
                          little boy (Raskolnikov): "WHY?"
                                           Father: "It's none of our business."

As we discussed in class, we can draw lines from this literal nightmare backward, like this:

      mare => drunk girl (apparent rape victim) = = = = = >  Dunya (sister of Raskolnikov)
                         /\                                                                    /\
                         ||                                                                     ||
                 "dirty old man" = = = = = = = = = = = = = => Svidrigailov
(Rask. calls him "Svidrigailov!")                                (former employer and harasser of Dunya)

and also from the dream forward to the murder, like this:

      mare => Alyona (pawn broker):  --a peasant yells "Take an axe to her," p. 58
                                                         --Alyona, like mare, takes many blows before succumbing

Alyona is beaten by Raskolnikov, but she is also a beater; she is said to beat her sister Lizaveta regularly. Raskolnikov has also been portrayed as a victim of Alyona (see debate between student and officer, overheard by Raskolnikov, pp. 64-66). By the way, he pawns two real things with her (the "cigarette case" is just a piece of wood he found, remember): what are they, and is there any significance to the order in which he pawns them?

What does the dream reveal about Raskolnikov's "natural" or instinctive morality? Compare it to the dream of the crone that ends Part III (pp. 276-8); what side of Raskolnikov's "self" is revealed in the second dream?

The Big(moral and structural)Questions
The ethos (moral dimension), pathos (emotional dimension), and logos (rational dimension) of this novel collaborate in creating the dense narrative texture that many of you have found "frustrating" and/or "discomfiting"--whether to the novel's benefit or to its detriment. Of course, our task in this class is to try to unravel the carefully entwined threads of the narrative fabric in the hope of understanding how and with what Dostoevsky has knitted it.

As some of you have commented, the narrator is closely identified with Raskolnikov (we'll talk more in class about specifically how). To a certain extent, the characters that surround Raskolnikov are there for his benefit (and hence for our benefit, as followers of Raskolnikov): they either reflect parts of him back to himself or represent alternatives that face him.

How would you identify the ideas and positions represented by the following characters? What are their logical, ethical and/or pathetic associations?:--

  Older generation
  Pulcheria Ivanovna (Rask's mother)

Newer generation

To which of these characters does Raskolnikov seem most strongly linked? What parallels can you draw between Rask. and each of the above? Which characters most compellingly attract our sympathy?

A murder mystery with a difference...
As Ben pointed out in class, the mystery in this murder story is not factual but psychological: Why does Raskolnikov kill (and what will he do next, and why)? These are the questions that the novel sets itself to answer, in narrative form. Which opens up a large subset of further questions:

  • Why the Marmeladov subplot?
  • Why the Svidrigailov subplot?
  • Why the Dunya subplot?
  • Why do the peasants in Raskolnikov's dream beat that poor horse?

Among the other themes/motifs/symbolic items that some of you have identified are the following:

  • flowers
  • drunkenness
  • laughter
  • identification with reading material (what Dante woiuld call "pietà")
  • coincidences ("accident"? "fate"? "superstition"? "prejudice"?)
  • separation from humanity

If one or more of these strikes you as particularly interesting, please track it and let us know of your findings in Tuesday's class!


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