this book at Amazon.com!
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
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:
"Whip her to death!"
heavy load --- weak horse, female, old --- no motion
little boy (Raskolnikov): "WHY?"
"It's none of our business."
As we discussed in class, we can draw lines from this literal nightmare
backward, like this:
=> drunk girl (apparent rape victim) = = = = = > Dunya
(sister of Raskolnikov)
old man" = = = = = = = = = = = = = => Svidrigailov
(Rask. calls him "Svidrigailov!") (former
employer and harasser of Dunya)
and also from the dream forward to the murder, like this:
=> Alyona (pawn broker): --a peasant yells "Take an axe
to her," p. 58
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
How would you identify the ideas and positions represented by the
following characters? What are their logical, ethical and/or pathetic
Pulcheria Ivanovna (Rask's mother)
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
- 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:
- identification with reading material (what Dante woiuld call "pietà")
- coincidences ("accident"? "fate"? "superstition"?
- separation from humanity