Why Raskolnikov Killed the Pawnbroker

January 30, 2019 by Essay Writer

Following his confession to Sonya, Crime and Punishment’s Raskolnikov attempts to explain the reasoning behind his murder. This segment of the novel illuminates the fundamental irrationality of Raskolnikov’s ostensibly logical reasoning. It also portrays Raskolnikov’s fragmented thought, his lack of self-awareness and understanding, and Sonya’s role in bringing him to confront his crime in the hopes of achieving an emotional and intellectual honesty that will set the stage for his final redemption.Raskolnikov moves through several explanations for the motives of his murder, each one contradicting and supplanting the previous one. His first explanation is that he simply wanted to rob the pawnbroker for her money. He then rejects this explanation by recalling that he really did not need or want the money. He did not steal out of hunger and, though he did want to help his mother, he did not steal for his family. We should also recall that he treats money quite casually, having given money to three others: a vulnerably drunken girl, Marmeladov, and Katerina Ivanovna. Moreover, he never even cared to look at the pawnbroker’s purse after he stole it and does not even know if there is any money in it. Finally, he knows this explanation is wrong because it does not adequately account for his present suffering and guilt: “If I’d killed them only because I was hungry… I would now be… happy!” (413)Struggling for a more adequate explanation, he proposes the uselessly abstract statement, “I have a wicked heart” (414). Realizing that he needs to come up with something more substantial and detailed, he concludes that he committed the crime to see if he could be like Napoleon in asserting his will and overstepping conventional boundaries. His next vain explanation is that he stole the money so that he could support himself at the university without having to depend on the sacrifices of his mother and sister. He eagerly adopts this explanation despite the fact that he had previously rejected the idea that he committed the murder for money or out of concern for his family. When Sonya questions whether this explanation is sufficient, Raskolnikov haphazardly tacks on the extra excuse that, after all, he had only killed a “louse.” Subsequently, he offers the incoherent explanation that his spitefulness and the destitution of his material environment had lead him to a murderous state of mind. After rejecting this line of thought, Raskolnikov finally settles upon characterizing the motive of his murder as an attempt to test out his extraordinary man theory. He says that he wanted to affirm his intellectual superiority and his right to rule over ordinary men by daring to kill.For each explanation, Raskolnikov oscillates dramatically between certainty and uncertainty. He confidently says that he killed the pawnbroker to rob her, “of course,” but almost immediately rejects it, saying, “That’s not quite right” (413). Regarding his explanation that he is wicked, he tells Sonya, “Take note of that, it can explain a lot” (414). Then, in the same paragraph, he discards it: “All this is not it” (414). His fluctuations are so extreme that he manages to reject and defend the same hypothesis in a single breath: “You can see for yourself that’s not it!… yet it’s the truth” (416). Next, he greedily latches onto the Napoleon explanation, exclaiming, “Why not, after all! … since that is how it was!” (415). Despite the tremendous confidence with which he begins each explanation, the “Why not, after all” betrays the insecurities that end up undermining each one of them. He goes on to confirm, “That’s precisely how it was” (415). He uses the word “precisely” as if he had sharply defined and concluded the exact reasons for his murder. Despite his intellectual commitment to precision and thoroughly formulated exactitude, his thoughts emerge as a hopelessly jumbled array of contradictions. He cannot grasp the complexity and irrationality of his murder motive, though it is a motive he had meticulously and rationally pre-meditated. Nor can he admit his intellectual limitations in understanding himself. Thus, Raskolnikov desperately grasps at anything that will pass as a coherent and satisfying explanation. He admits the absurdity of his Napoleon explanation, calling it “nonsense, almost sheer babble” (415), only to replace it with the equally dubious explanation that he wanted the pawnbroker’s money to support himself in college. He concludes, “Well, that’s all” (416), implying that he had successfully accounted for everything in his latest all-encompassing explanation. Once again, he rejects it, saying, “All that is not it… There are quite different reasons here, quite, quite different!” (416). Raskolnikov snatches anxiously at the next viable explanation that enters his mind: “He began again… as if an unexpected turn of thought had struck him and aroused him anew. ‘Better… suppose…'” (417). In delineating his explanation of how spitefulness and insanity lead him towards murder, he interjects three parenthetical phrases to stabilize and support his wobbly new hypothesis. These parenthetical interjections also serve to indicate how fragmented, jumbled, and discordant Raskolnikov’s thoughts are.Raskolnikov resorts to claiming that he has an adequate explanation, but simply cannot articulate it. He asks, wracking his mind, “What am I going to tell you?” (414). He cannot manage to organize his chaotic thoughts into words: “I have to speak now, and I don’t even know how to begin” (414). Whenever he does manage to say something, he says with defeat and frustration, “Again I’m not telling it right!” (417). He dismisses everything he says as “babble,” utterances carried out in an incoherent or meaninglessly repetitious manner, or as “nonsense,” words or language containing no meaning or conveying no intelligible ideas. Despite all his efforts to neatly outline the motivations behind his murder, Raskolnikov only manages to spout discordant and slipshod half-notions.His attempts to think through and articulate an adequate explanation require the exertion of extreme mental effort. The narrator mentions several times that Raskolnikov speaks “pensively.” Raskolnikov also occasionally “stopped and fell to thinking,” or “fell silent, and thought it over for a long time” (415). When offering an explanation, Raskolnikov sounds like “he was speaking as if by rote” (416), because he had pre-formulated this explanation through meticulous and painstaking thought. He cannot manage to simply “tell [Sonya] straight out” (415) why he committed the murder because, instead of admitting intellectual defeat, he goes through a self-deceptive and long-winded thought process to devise convincing rationalizations. He often has to “reconsider,” to rethink his explanation over and over again by revising, discarding, and replacing. When he is “recollecting himself,” he is actually recollecting the fragmented and dualistic parts of his schizophrenic personality, while also recollecting all his similarly muddled and incongruent thoughts.After all this mental exertion, Raskolnikov admits failure, saying “Ah, what a stupid thing to come out with, eh?” (413). Despite all the confidence and value he places upon his intellectual capabilities and rational thought, a feeling of impotence and futility overwhelms him: “In some sort of powerlessness he dragged himself to the end of his story and hung his head” (416). Without feeling or passion, through intellect and reason, he “drags” himself to forcibly contrived explanations. The mental toll upon him even manifests itself physically as Raskolnikov periodically hangs his head, holds his head, and eventually develops a headache. The narrator tells us that “a terrible powerlessness showed through his agitated state of mind” (417).Raskolnikov faults Sonya for all the anguish and frustration he experiences in trying to hash out an explanation. She is, after all, the one who demands from him an understanding of his crime. He pleas to her, “Stop it, Sonya!” (412) and “Don’t torment me, Sonya!” (413). Rather than confronting the issue, he wishes to ignore it and brush it aside. He hastily offers his explanations with rash overconfidence, concluding “Well, but enough of that!” (416). But each time, he realizes that Sonya either does not understand or does not believe his explanation, which once again thrusts him back into the excruciating process of strangling the truth out of himself.Sonya sees that Raskolnikov “understand[s] nothing, simply nothing!” (418). She believes that honesty with himself will allow him to recognize his sin, which will prepare him for confession. Confession is necessary for suffering, which in turn is necessary for redemption and a return to God and society. However, Raskolnikov has difficulty handling the weight of emotional and intellectual honesty, as well as the suffering it promises to inflict. He reacts harshly against Sonya’s references to hard labor in Siberia and “he suddenly felt it heavy and painful to be loved” (422) by her.Because Sonya passively forces him to confront his crime, he periodically falls to tormenting her. Whenever he cannot think of an explanation, he starts lamenting over the fact that he had ever come to her. Sonya meekly accepts the suffering that he passes on to her. When Raskolnikov tells Sonya, “You won’t understand any of it” (414), she declares that she will make every effort to try to understand. Ironically, he himself does not understand what he is saying and what his real motive was for killing the pawnbroker. He is simply projecting his own confusion, bewilderment, and perplexity onto Sonya. He attributes his inability to articulate an explanation to Sonya’s inability to comprehend. He reasons that, since she would not understand it anyway, he does not have to offer an explanation. Sonya, as the Christ-like figure of the novel, willingly accepts Raskolnikov’s projection of suffering, shame, and desperation.Sonya’s prodding eventually does launch Raskolnikov into voluntary reflection. He admits, “I’m lying Sonya… I’ve been lying for a long time” (416), thus opening up the possibility that, by recognizing his intellectual dishonesty, he will come to face the true nature of his crime. Once she successfully forces the issue, he stops struggling with her and begins to struggle with himself. In fact, “he was no longer concerned with whether she understood or not” (418). His dialogue with her almost turns into a monologue. He essentially starts conversing with himself, an action that is consistent with his schizophrenia and his internal struggle between dual personalities.Raskolnikov ends up resolving that the extraordinary man theory was his motivation for murder. He admits that all his other excuses, from a desire for money to concern over his family, are all secondary rationalizations meant to conceal the “true” reason behind his crime. He recalls that when he was contemplating the murder, “I thought it all out and whispered it all out when I was lying there in the dark… I argued it all out with myself, to the last trace, and I know everything, everything!” (418). Despite the fact that he had previously thought through his murder motivations in meticulous detail, Raskolnikov says that he “had wanted to forget everything” (418), and thus blocked out his memory of these deliberations. As a result, he has to retrace the entire process in his dialogue with Sonya in order to rediscover his murder motivations.In recalling his formulation of the extraordinary man theory, Raskolnikov starts to realize the folly of relying on reason. He tells Sonya, “Do you really think I went into it headlong, like a fool? No, I went into it like a bright boy, and that’s what ruined me!” (418). Going into it “headlong, like a fool” would imply spontaneity and passion. Raskolnikov, on the other hand, was a “bright boy,” one who ignored his impulses and valued his intellect, which he used to premeditate the murder. Here, Raskolnikov starts to realize that it would have been better to be a “fool” than a “bright boy.”However, he continues to believe in the soundness of his extraordinary man theory. He simply contends that he is the wrong person to have carried it out. By saying that he “know[s] everything, everything,” Raskolnikov lends a false clarity, firmness, and consistency to his understanding of his murder motives. He fails to notice that his carefully thought-out theory was fraught with contradictions from the very beginning. For example, he contended that the extraordinary man is superior, and thus is above morality, social responsibility, and concern for the rest of humanity. However, Raskolnikov also said it is the extraordinary man’s duty to utter a “new word” which is ultimately meant to benefit mankind. He murdered the pawnbroker both to see if he was superior and above God and morality, and also because he was doing mankind a favor by killing a “louse” and using her money for better purposes. His extraordinary man theory is as contradictory, fragmented, and incomplete as the entire process in which he tries to explain his murder motives to Sonya. Raskolnikov’s theory and explanations for his murder only give the false illusion of being logical. In addition, he fails to give credit to several incidental circumstances that facilitated the murder, like when he accidentally overheard the conversation about the pawnbroker’s worthlessness, when he overheard the time when the pawnbroker would be alone, and when he found an ax from the porter.By the end of this segment of the novel, Raskolnikov does not admit that his extraordinary man theory is wrong. However, Sonya has succeeded in stripping away many of Raskolnikov’s self-deceptions. He vaguely starts to sense that his prided mental abilities are pitifully limited and that man, being a fundamentally irrational creature, is incapable of purely logical and consistent thought. Sonya’s meekness and willingness to share in the suffering involved in Raskolnikov’s emotional and intellectual purification allows him to enter into a state of introspection and perplexity that will eventually lead him to confession and redemption.*All text citations based on the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics, c.1992

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