Siblings in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment
If different kinds of motivation were to be viewed on a spectrum, there would be quite a distance between instinct and reason. While instinct denotes an animalistic impulse, reason implies careful deliberation, a process that involves employing logic in order to form judgments. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, instinct and reason are both present, but operate on different levels to serve as forms of motivation for siblings Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (or Rodya) and Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikov (or Dunya). While Rodya tries to convince himself that his actions are the fruits of meticulous calculation, animalistic impulses are what ultimately trigger his actions. Dunya’s actions appear to be motivated by an innate instinct to care for her brother, but she does not carry out her actions without backing them up with careful reasoning. Dunya repairs the reputation of an instinctual nature by bringing its merits to light, undoing the damage inflicted upon it by Rodya’s actions.
Initially, Rodya’s plan to kill the pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, appears to be a well-thought out scheme: he visits her house to get an idea of the setting, tries to find out when her sister will not be home, and devises a method of distracting her while he gets the ax ready. Though his rationality appears briefly when he realizes he could never live with the guilt that would accompany the act, as the time preceding the planned murder diminishes, it is clear that Rodya behaves more like an animal than like a rational human being. External cues like overhearing Lizaveta tell the huckster she will not be home that night and the men in the tavern speculating about murdering the pawnbroker do not serve primarily as information to better flesh out his plan; these instances are more like sharp proddings that drive him towards committing the murder before he is ready, as though he is “a man condemned to death” (Dostoyevsky 51). The act of murder becomes not an act of rationality, but an act forced upon him. No matter how eloquently he is able to justify the act of murder later on, when he explains that certain men have the right to overstep “certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea (sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity” (206), the motive behind the murder he commits lacks such a noble purpose at the time of its execution. His actions cast instinctual natures in an unfavorable, barbaric light.
The reader is initially introduced to Dunya indirectly through Raskolnikov’s reaction to the news of her engagement. Her agreement to marry Luzhin is viewed as an act of pure altruism for the sake of receiving money to help her brother, because “to save her life she would not sell herself, but for someone else she is doing it” (36). Similarly, Dunya seems to agree to the requests in Svidrigailov’s letter about Raskolnikov’s crime instinctively, as if she gives no consideration to the likelihood that Svidrigailov is dangerous to her. However, Dunya backs up her decision to execute these selfless actions with well-established reasons. She does not immediately agree to marry Luzhin, but deliberates carefully beforehand, “walking up and down the room all night; at last she knelt down before the ikon and prayed long and fervently” (30). While the reader does not have access to Dunya’s thoughts during her deliberation, it is obvious that she spends hours weighing the costs and benefits of agreeing to the marriage. Later on, she clarifies her motives when she tells Rodya “I am marrying Pyotr Petrovitch because of two evils I choose the less” (184). Her decision is carefully calculated: either she prostitutes herself, or she marries a wealthy individual to better her family’s life circumstances. In the same way, though she agrees to meet him without hesitation for the sake of Rodya, Dunya realizes Svidrigailov is a risk to her and therefore takes into consideration means by which she can reduce the harm he may possibly inflict upon her. Based on the surprise Svidrigailov expresses when Dunya whips a revolver out of her pocket, it is obvious that he underestimates her clever wit, taking her to be a fool who would do anything for the sake of her brother without planning some sort of defense prior to their encounter. Dunya’s instinct to care for her family, especially her brother Rodya, does not mean she brainlessly sacrifices herself for their sake; on the contrary, instead of allowing impulsive nature to obliterate all forms of reason as Rodya does, her unwavering compassion for her family brings into light her sound reasoning ability.
Because of Rodya’s impulsive actions that lead to frenzied murders, readers may view instinctual natures in a negative light. Dunya demonstrates an instinctual nature as well; she is represented throughout the novel as someone who unfailingly desires to do good for her family. However, the siblings’ instinctual natures are channeled in contrasting ways to bring about their actions. Though Rodya tries to bury his instinct to kill by covering his true motives with various theories, such as comparing his act of murder to the conquests of Napoleon, he reveals his true intentions when he confesses to Sonia: “I wanted to murder without casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alone!” (329). In contrast, Dunya does not allow her instinct to sacrifice herself for her family take complete control of her. When given the opportunity to murder Svidrigailov, Dunya “saw that he would sooner die than let her go” (390) and drops the revolver. The few seconds she spends contemplating whether or not to shoot allow Dunya to see that Svidrigailov’s willingness to die means she holds a power over him, possibly one that will set her free. Shooting Svidrigailov would have immediately satisfied her need to protect her brother, but instead of only seeing the short-term benefits such an act would bring about, Dunya foresees the long-term disasters that would result as well, namely bringing about more doom for her entire family.
Dunya demonstrates that an instinctual nature need not be one that brings about uncontrollable bouts of violence (like that of Rodya), but one that spurs individuals to heights of bravery where they can use reason to bring about their goals. Dunya and Rodya both possess instinct and reason, but possessing the same kinds of motivation does not mean that they carry out their actions in the same manner. While Rodya’s instinctive nature punctures the layer of reason he tries to hide it beneath, Dunya comes to terms with her instinctive nature in order to combine it with reason. Though instinct and reason may be contrasting forms of motivation, the two can be successfully integrated to fuel noble actions.
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