Crucial Raskolnikov’s Decision – Svidrigailov against Sonya
After discussing the possibility of confession with Porfiry in part six of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov debates whom to go see, Svidrigaylov or Sonya. He says of Sonya:
“She represented an irrevocable sentence, an unchangeable resolution. He must choose between her way and his own” (391).
There are two solutions that present themselves to Raskolnikov near the closing of the novel. He may choose the path that Svidrigaylov presents to him, to run away; or accept Sonya’s, to confess. While walking to Sonya’s from the bar, Svidrigaylov says to Raskolnikov, “…you’d better be off at once to America somewhere. Run away, young man! Perhaps there is still time” (410). What Svidrigaylov actually means is, “Kill yourself, young man!” for it is revealed in the conclusion of Svidrigaylov’s subplot that “running away,” or “going to America,” actually means suicide. Doestoevsky uses Svridrigaylov’s “escape” to communicate with the reader that the only way to run away from punishment, or suffering, is through death. Furthermore, Svidrigaylov’s suicide represents the spiritual suicide that Raskolnikov would have committed had he not atoned for his crime. Raskolnikov rejects this resolution offered by Svidrigaylov when he says to Dunya, “I wanted to reach a definite decision and I found myself walking by the Neva many times2E..I should have liked to end things there, but…I decided against it…” (437). As soon as he decides against Svidrigaylov’s route, he chooses to face his suffering boldly, giving himself up immediately.
The other of the two resolutions that Raskolnikov has to choose from is to do what Sonya wishes of him. “Accept suffering and achieve atonement through it—that is what you must do” (355). Raskolnikov says that he himself dies when he kills the pawnbroker, and in giving Raskolnikov the means by which to confess, Sonya is his resurrection. “‘And he that was dead came forth” (277), she read to him from the Bible, preaching to him that through spirituality and God, he too would be able to come back from the dead. At the end of the novel, Raskolnikov’s resurrection is suggested by all the surrounding circumstances. It is the right time of year: Rodya is sick during the end of Lent and Holy Week, and his personal resurrection happens about the time of Easter. It is both spring and early in the morning, and both times indicate renewal and rebirth. When Sonya returns from her illness, they meet again, and she at last frees him from his living death.
Not only do Sonya and Svidrigaylov represent the two possible conclusions of the novel, but they also represent two halves of Raskolnikov’s split conscience. There is compassion, a spiritual need inherent in him, mirrored in Sonya. The traits that Sonya and Raskolnikov share manifest throughout the novel. He shows generosity in donating his last copecks to the Marmelodovs. He shows caring when he rescues the girl passed out on the bench. The strongest evidence, however, of the hidden good nature of Raskolnikov lies in the dream of the mare. This scene shows that the emotional and kindhearted side of Raskolnikov is repulsed by the idea of murder, and ironically, the mare is murdered in the same brutal and grotesque matter as the pawnbroker and Lizaveta are. The sympathy Rakolnikov shows for the horse and the manner in which he executes the murders further illustrate Raskolnikov’s division.
Svidrigaylov represents the theoretical side of Raskolnikov, the need to believe in his nihilist theories. First, Svidrigaylov shows no guilt in beating his wife. Second, he claims no responsibility for the way he lusts after Dunya, “I, too, am a man, et nihil humanum” (237). Svidrigaylov is the embodiment of Nihilist beliefs, for he places the blame of his actions on either his environment or his biology. He blames his humanity for abusing women, saying that his own will is too weak, and that he has been victimized in his longing for women. His acceptance of the Nihilic ideas is illustrated by his approval of Raskolnikov’s justifications for the murder, saying that the Russian people needed a “special genius” to keep it from disaster (416). Additionally, it is because Svidrigaylov and Sonya represent these two contradictions within Raskolnikov that he is so drawn to both of them. “…perhaps he needed not Svidrigaylov but somebody else, and Svidrigaylov had just happened to turn up. Sonya? But what would take him to Sonya now?” (391). He seeks out Svidrigaylov because he has the same criminal traits as Raskolnikov, and wishes to attain Svidrigaylov’s noncompliance to traditional social and religious values. Contradictorily, he is drawn to Sonya’s innate morality. Sonya and Svidrigaylov’s fight for Raskolnikov’s attention represent the battle between the two halves of his conscience, and moreover, the bigger themes of Raskolnikov’s battle of ideology versus spirituality.
Connected to spirituality, suffering is an integral part of every character’s role in the novel. Sonya receives her education in suffering and self-sacrifice by being a prostitute for her family. Svidrigaylov says that Dunya is the kind of person who “hungers and thirsts to be tortured for somebody” (401). Porfiry understands the import of atonement and of suffering, for he sees the worth in Milkolka’s fabricated confession. Furthermore, confession is necessary for Raskolnikov to receive his suffering, for when he admits wholly the mistake of his crime; he must also admit to himself that he is not above the rest of society, and therefore must pay for what he did.
But what effect does suffering produce that it would be deemed necessary by so many characters in the novel? Encyclopedia Britannica Online’s biography of Doestevsky’s life was eerily similar to Raskolnikov’s. He was poor throughout his life; he was always rushing his next writing in order to receive a paycheck. He suffered tragedy, death and epilepsy continuously throughout his lifetime. He was exiled to a Siberian Prison for four years for the involvement with the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of intellectuals who discussed utopian socialism. In the Siberian prison, he not only denounced the arrogance of his fellow intellectuals who wanted to saddle the rest of society with their political ideas, but he also developed a strong relationship with Russian Orthodoxy. The parallels between the main character’s life and the author’s seem to suggest another double: Raskolnikov and Doestoevsky. The conclusion about the effect of suffering then can only be reached in the study of Doestoevsky. Doestoevsky knows of the healing strength of suffering because he himself has suffered immensely. In prison he wrote a novel based on his own prison experiences, The House of the Dead. He told of the brutality of prison guards, evil criminals who killed children, and decent souls in the midst of filth. The personal experience of Doestoevsky was speaking when he stressed the importance of suffering in order to be redeemed, for it was suffering that he incurred while in prison that caused him to turn away from the romantic political ideas of the Petrashevsky Circle, and turn instead towards God, where he himself found redemption.
In Conclusion, Svidrigaylov and Sonya not only represent two opposite conclusions to the story of Raskolnikov, but also mirror either half of his split conscience. On one side, Raskolnikov wants to believe the theories practiced by Svidrigaylov, and on the other, he needs to be spiritually resurrected by Sonya. The “irrevocable sentence” offered by Sonya is the atonement of Raskolnikov’s sins, the only way for him to live again. Another mirror Doestoevsky uses in the novel is Raskolnikov and himself. In using Raskolnikov’s story to portray what he himself learned about the redemptive power of suffering, the importance in spirituality, and the rejection of the theories, he uses Raskolnikov as a medium to portray what he’s learned.
“Dostoyevsky, Fyodor.” Encyclopdia Britannica 2003 Encyclopdia Britannica Online.10 Mar, 2003 <http://search.eb.com/eb/article?eu3D114752>.
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