Dreams in Crime & Punishment
Dreams are a continuous sense of disconnection from reality to let us be what we cannot be and to fulfill our unconscious desires. In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the depiction of dreams is seen in a deeper level, which is portrayed as symbolism to Raskolnikov’s, the protagonist, different perspectives about the world and also foreshadows a lot of significant events in the story.
Dostoevsky explores the complexity of Rodion Raskolnikov’s dreams and how it depicts Raskolnikov’s psychological processing of the things he does especially his crime.
Raskolnikov’s first dream shows a lame mare that men ferociously beat up while he is watching as a young Raskolnikov.
The portrayal of the younger version of Raskolnikov watching the terrible murder of the horse symbolizes his innocence while the murderous death of the mare symbolizes and foreshadows the brutal death of Alyona Ivanovna, the pawnbroker. In his third dream, it symbolizes the formation of his guilt as his crime of violently killing the Ivanovna sisters haunts him.
Moreover, in his last dream, there is a disease that spreads among people and drives them insane, making them believe that they are the only intelligent people. These infected people end up killing each other. This represents his realization of finally believing that his extraordinary theory about himself is wrong.
He realizes that if each person thinks that they are the most intelligent person then they would fight each other and turn against humanity. Therefore, these dreams are very crucial for the moral and psychological growth of the protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, in this book.
The first dream of Raskolnikov shows his dual personality. It shows two distinct conflicts between his pure heart and corrupted mind that are manifested from his dream of the lame mare. Raskolnikov’s dream is set back to the time of his youth. In his dream, he passes by a group of peasants led by Mikolka who tells his friends to get to his cart and forces a lame mare to pull them.
When the mare is too weak to pull them, Mikolka and his friends start to beat and whip the mare until it cannot breathe anymore. The young Raskolnikov witnesses all of these and “made his way [while] screaming, through the crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms around [the mare’s] bleeding dead head and kissed it… then he jumped up and flew in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka”(Dostoevsky 61-62 ).
The young innocent child in the dream represents the virtuous side of Raskolnikov as he expresses his warmth and sympathy towards the dying mare by kissing it. He is flabbergasted by the savagery of Mikolka, and he feels pity because the mare could not fight back or even save its life. This is similar to a lot of characters in the book such as Sonya, Dounia and most especially Raskolnikov since they are all beaten up by poverty.
When Raskolnikov wakes up from his dream, he suddenly contemplates a murder and asks himself: “Shall I really take an axe … strike her on the head [and] split her skull open … that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal, trembles [and] hide, all soaked in blood … with the axe … Good God, can it be?”(Dostoevsky 62). The violent killing of the horse is comparable and foreshadows the brutal attack of Raskolnikov to Alyona Ivanovna, the pawnbroker.
In his own interpretation, the dream portrays his plan on killing the pawnbroker by doing the same thing that Mikolka did to the skinny old horse.Therefore, the dream serves as a representation of Raskolnikov’s will to kill Alyona and the guilt he will feel after it is done.This dream depicts Raskolnikov’s compressed emotions and thoughts which binds his innocence with madness.
In his third dream, guilt and paranoia cause distress to Raskolnikov even when he is asleep. In his dream, he returns to the apartment where he killed Alyona Ivanovna and her sister, Lizaveta. As he walks through the apartment, he notices a coat misplaced and as he lifts it up, he sees the bloody face of Alyona.
Out of fear, “[Raskolnikov] was overcome with frenzy and began hitting the old woman on the head with all his force, but at every blow of the axe, the laughter and whispering from the bedroom grew louder and the old woman was simply shaking with mirth. He was rushing away, but the passage was full of people”(Dostoevsky 278). He hits the old woman’s head just like what he did in reality, but in his dream, she did not die.
Alyona Ivanovna becomes the physical manifestation of Raskolnikov’s moral sense. He tries to keep her away to avoid the feeling of guilt, but Alyona just laughs at him as she tries to tell him that he will never be free as long as the murder is resolved. Therefore, as this dream haunts him, Raskolnikov becomes a prisoner of his own mind and feeling of guilt.
In his last dream, it disproves his feelings of being superior over common men. Raskolnikov believes that there are two types of people that coexist in the world. The first one is the ordinary men which he defines as “men that have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because … they are ordinary”( Dostoevsky 259).
On the other hand is extraordinary men, which he defines as “men that have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way , just because they are extraordinary”( Dostoevsky 259).
This is why his last dream becomes significant to Raskolnikov’s new realization about humanity. In his dream, microscopic bugs invade the country and “each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept and wrung his hands.
They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite” ( Dostoevsky 539). People that are infected think that they themselves are the sole possessors of intelligence. This causes chaos, famine, and people to kill each other. They are only a few survivors to renew their destroyed humanity.
Moreover, this dream represents his realization of finally believing that his extraordinary theory is wrong. He believes that he is an extraordinary man with no rules to follow or can break the law without being punished. Because of this, he thinks that he will not feel any remorse after killing Alyona Ivanovna.
Therefore, this dream makes him realize that if each person thought that they are the most intelligent person then they would fight each other and turn against humanity. He finally accepts that he is just a normal person who has rules to follow and things to repent just like anybody else.
To top it all, Dostoevsky uses dreams to depict Raskolnikov’s feelings and perspectives on things especially the murder. The young Raskolnikov in his first dream, represents his innocence, which shows that even from the start, he does not have the full confidence that he can actually commit murder. In his third dream, his guilt is finally haunting him. Because of the murder he commits, his actions become erratic and his dreams become his punisher.
This proves that he is actually not an “extraordinary man” because as he tries to kill Alyona in his dream, she just laughs at him which torments his mind more. In his last dream, which I think is the most significant dream among all the dreams, represents Raskolnikov’s acceptance that he is wrong about his “extraordinary theory”.
He finally believes that he is just a normal person like anyone. Because of all his dreams, it urges him to confess his crime and to finally accept the reality that he is not as superior as he thinks he is. He can finally set himself free from the guilt and believe that murder is not right even for anyone.
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