The Dualism of Raskolnikov
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in his work Crime and Punishment, makes it clear from the beginning that Raskolnikov, his somewhat unconventional protagonist, is in a “disturbed state of mind” (Dostoyevsky, 13). Derived from the Russian word for “schism,” Raskolnikov’s name itself is suggestive of his twofold personality. Raskolnikov’s dichotomous personality reveals itself primarily in his reaction to his crime, his treatment of his mother and sister, his dealings with Sonya, and his attitude towards human contact. The “extraordinary man” side of Raskolnikov’s personality shows us the destructive nature of self-absorption, which he eventually succeeds in escaping from, due to the softer and more emotional side of his personality.
Even though Raskolnikov consistently tries to rationalize and justify his crime, the murder oppresses him with a sense of self-revulsion as he realizes the foolishness of his egotistical “extraordinary man” theory. Raskolnikov considers himself as part of an elite “superman” echelon, who posses the unofficial right to commit a crime, if the act leads to the benefit of mankind. He “[allows] his conscience to step across certain…obstacles” and places himself above social mores, committing an intentional murder primarily for the sake of proving his theory (Dostoyevsky, 308). Raskolnikov’s subconscious, however, recognizes this erroneous reasoning and a sense of self-repugnance starts to form in his mind. Raskolnikov manages to justify his theory consciously; however, his semi-conscious daydreams show that, somehow he is aware of his moral flaws. One of the daydreams Raskolnikov has is an incident from his childhood. He dreams about the killing of a mare by some drunken peasants. As a child, Raskolnikov weeps for the horse’s suffering. His compassionate reaction to this brutal act signifies his deep ambivalence about committing murder. The suffering he experiences in this daydream can be interpreted as an indicator for his eventual repentance of the crime he commits. In another dream, Raskolnikov’s murder victim comes back to haunt him in a dream. In this dream he is trying to kill the old lady but this time his strikes have no effect. We can see, once again, that the murder scene haunts Raskolnikov’s sub-conscious. The old lady refusing to die in his dream suggests that instinctively Raskolnikov senses the faults in his theory. Later, while in Siberia, Raskolnikov dreams of a society infected by a terrible virus that is making people violent and aggressive while also giving them the illusion of being morally correct. We know that Raskolnikov is a victim of this sort of “plague” and the spread of this plague to humanity is portrayed as something like doomsday in Raskolnikov’s dream. This dream suggests that Raskolnikov recognizes his own psychological illness and the chaos that accompanies his “extraordinary men” theory. Dostoyevsky implies that Raskolnikov’s internal struggle to “step over” the line of accepted moral conduct is futile since it is impossible to ignore the sanctity of life and humanity through selfish pursuits. Dostoyevsky implies that Raskolnikov’s internal struggle to “step over” the line of accepted moral conduct through selfish pursuits is futile since ultimately the softer, more emotional side of Raskolnikov’s personality is stronger and reminds him the consequences of ignoring the sanctity of life and humanity.
Raskolnikov alternates between isolation and an intense craving for human contact due to his dichotomous personality. From the very beginning, Raskolnikov’s “soul [is]…affected by a gloomy sense of alienation… [of] infinite solitariness” (Dostoyevsky, 126). His “extraordinary man” theory separates him from “ordinary” people and forces him into solitude. However, this alienation becomes dramatically more acute the moment he commits his crime; “at that moment he felt as though, with a pair of scissors, he had cut himself off from everyone and everything” (Dostoyevsky, 140). As the novel continues we find Raskolnikov trying to integrate himself back into the social fold. At one point, he finds isolation so oppressive that he begs Polenka, Katerina Ivanova’s little daughter, to love and pray for him. Polenka’s single kiss, a simple gesture of love, leads Raskolnikov to declare, “life was still possible…his life hadn’t died along with the old woman” (Dostoyevsky, 227). Raskolnikov’s desire for Polenka’s kiss and prayers is an evidence of the emotional side of his personality. Although his darker side forces him to withdraw from society, his more humane side suffers under his self-imposed isolation and eventually obliges him to seek human contact. The destruction self-absorption causes to his soul is challenged with the human contacts he makes, such as Polenka’s kiss, and this leads him to believe that he can still escape this destruction.
Raskolnikov is painfully torn between devotion to his mother and sister and an inexplicable aversion to their mere presence. Nevertheless, their unwavering support helps sustain him despite his ailing mind and conscience. In the eyes of his mother and sister, Raskolnikov has always been “the focus of all their hopes”. Indeed, his mother has often “done nothing but live in the…expectation of the speedy receipt of a letter from her adored Rodya” (Dostoyevsky, 641). Raskolnikov’s self absorption rejects the oppressive dependence of his family on him. In addition, Dunya’s decision to marry Luzhin to help the family makes Raskolnikov feel inadequate in providing for them, which makes Raskolnikov angry. It is possible that Raskolnikov gets angry because his inadequacy clashes with his belief that he is an extraordinary man destined to benefit the human race. At one point, we find him pondering on his ambivalence towards his family, stating, “…how I have loved them! Why do I now hate them? Yes, I physically hate them…” (Dostoyevsky, 327) However, Raskolnikov does, most certainly, possess some brotherly feelings, as he adamantly protects Dunya both from “prostituting herself” by marrying Luzhin and from Svidrigailov, who seems evil and immoral. In fact, Raskolnikov is more reliant on and attached to his family’s support than he realizes. He does not understand that their devotion to him is partially what has sustained his belief in life and prevented him from committing suicide. It is also important to notice that although Raskolnikov persists in denying his wrongdoing in relation to the murder, he starts down the road to repentance by first recognizing that “he had made [his mother and sister] unhappy” (Dostoyevsky, 618). This recognition marks the beginning of Raskolnikov’s acceptance of his guilt. In meeting with his mother near the end of the novel, Raskolnikov declares that “[he’s] always loved her… [and he’ll] never stop loving her” (Dostoyevsky, 613). The regret Raskolnikov feels for making his family suffer demonstrates his human desires and the potential he has in escaping from self-absorption to embrace humanity instead.
Raskolnikov’s ambivalence is portrayed best in his relationship with Sonya, whose selflessness becomes the key to his salvation. Nowhere is Raskolnikov’s duality more blatantly obvious than during his conversations with Sonya. He alternates between many emotions while talking to her. Immediately prior to his confession to her, “a caustic hatred of Sonya [passes] through his heart” (Dostoyevsky, 488). Sonya is a sacrificial, kind-hearted person who becomes a prostitute in order to support her family. The selflessness of Sonya clashes with the self-absorption of Raskolnikov and this immense difference might be the root of Raskolnikov’s hatred. However, this hatred quickly “[vanishes] like a wraith” the moment he senses her loving gaze, and he begins to seek her approval and forgiveness, longing to suffer as she suffers which would help him to atone for his sins (Dostoyevsky, 488). Sonya holds up a mirror to the darker half of Raskolnikov’s personality, forcing him to admit to himself that he is “vain, envious, spiteful, nasty, and vindictive” (Dostoyevsky, 497). He starts regarding Sonya, the object of his fleeting hatred, as the only person he has left. His softer side recognizes the righteousness in Sonya and she becomes Raskolnikov’s refuge and the means for his atonement.
Raskolnikov’s “extraordinary man” complex brings with it reckless destruction: it strains his relationship with his family, severs his connection with humanity, and, most importantly, leads to the death of two innocent people. However, self-reproach for his crime, an underlying devotion to his family, a respectful attraction to Sonya, and a longing for human contact mark the softer side of his personality. It is Raskolnikov’s more humane side that helps him finally escape from the destructive nature of self-absorption, find redemption in the selfless Sonya and begin his journey back to the world of humanity. Dostoyevsky, through Raskolnikov’s internal conflict, proves the assertion that “everyone must look out for himself” (Dostoyevsky, 574) is wrong and shows the undesirable consequences of self-centeredness.
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