The Idiot Learns to Read #12: Crime and Punishment

Ghosts are, as it were, shreds and fragments of other worlds, the beginning of them. A man in health has, of course, no reason to see them, because he is above all a man of this earth and is bound for the sake of completeness and order to live only in this life. But as soon as one is ill, as soon as the normal earthly order of the organism is broken, one begins to realise the possibility of another world; and the more seriously ill one is, the closer becomes one’s contact with that other world, so that as soon as the man dies he steps straight into that world.

Crime and Punishment is the bizarre tale of a young man who has dropped out of university and decides to commit a murder he thinks will benefit society.  For whatever reason, Raskolnikov has left school and is now living in poverty.  Although he can get money from his mother, he decides to walk around completely dejected and impoverished, pawning his things with a crooked pawnbroker up the street.  It is she that he decides to kill.

He convinces himself that her death will benefit everyone, because she is a bloodsucker and malevolent.  He thinks that his peers will probably give him a medal for doing so.  He concots this plan to get rid of her.  It’s very cold and calculating, down to the last minute detail.  After having a very graphic dream about men beating a horse, then killing it with an axe, he decides to kill the woman with an axe.  He has all these dreams up to the murder, all of them basically convincing him that he is doing the right thing. 

”A familiar phenomenon, actions are sometimes performed in a masterly and most cunning way, while the direction of the actions is deranged and dependent on various morbid impressions– it’s like a dream.”

Raskolnikov does kill her, but he seems almost surprised that he did it.  Also, he kills her stepdaughter, not on purpose, but because the girl had the misfortune of showing up at the scene of the crime.  He steals the pawnbroker’s money as intended, but then ends up never using the money.  I don’t know if it’s guilt, or maybe he was afraid to get caught, but he hides everything he took under a rock somewhere.  He never even bothers to go back for it. 

After the murder, Raskolnikov seems to really go crazy.  He’s having strange dreams.  He thinks that everyone is out to get him, even his friends and family.  His mother and sister travel up to Petersburg, where he lives, because the sister Dounia is getting married, and Raskolnikov thinks that they have somehow discovered he is a murderer.  Everywhere he turns, he has this idea that everyone is watching him, that everyone knows, that everyone is just toying with him.  They want him to confess.  They’re trying to trick him into saying something. 

He begins to treat all of his close friends and family with detachment.  He’s rude to them, pushing them away.  Nobody can understand why he is acting this way.  In the middle of his psychosis, a number of other things are happening to the people around him.

His sister Dounia and his mother came to Petersburg because Dounia was to be married to Pyotr.  Dounia was turned out of her position as a maid because the mistress of the house accused her of having an affair with her husband Svidgrailov.  This turned out to be false, but Dounia left anyway.  Raskolnikov’s friend, Razumihin meets Dounia and falls immediately in love with her but is despaired because she’s going to marry Pyotr.

In the meantime, someone else confesses to the crime.  Raskolnikov thinks it’s all a ploy.  He goes to the police to say something to the lead detective Porfiry, but ends up changing his mind because he thinks that Porfiry is setting a trap for him.  It’s all very strange, his mindset. 

Raskolnikov’s friend Maledov gets drunk in the street and is run over by a carriage.  The family is very poor because Maledov has been drinking up all the money, so Rasklonikov decides to help with the funeral costs.  Because of this he meets Sonia, Maledov’s eldest daughter who has been prostituting herself so that her three younger siblings can eat.  Despite the fact that Sonia is a prositute, she is good and honest and extremely Christian.  She realises people look down on her because she’s a prostitute but she understands that this is a sacrifice that she has to make for the family.  Raskolnikov immediately becomes enamoured with her but at first you really can’t tell.  He’s so odd and in the middle of a guilty delerium. 

He is still treating everyone like garbage, but now he’s going aruond asking people, “Do you think I could have committed this murder?”  Everyone is looking at him like he’s crazy.  I think he is. 

Raskolnikov hates Dounia’s fiance, thinking he’s up to no good.  He runs him off, much to Razumihin’s delight.  Now he and Dounia can be togeher once he makes his fortunate.  Svidgrailov, Dounia’s old employer, shows up, much to everyone’s annoyance.  He has murdered his wife, but there is no evidence, so he gets away with it.  He is obsessed with Dounia and tries to give her all this money.  He even gives money to Sonia’s siblings after their mother dies.  He is a very odd character and I can’t see how he fits into the story sometimes.  He has visions of his dead wife haunting him, and after he tries to blackmail Dounia he commits suicide. 

Because he is very affectionate with Sonia and Sonia is so God-fearing, she eventually gets him to confess to his crimes and urges him to go to the police and tell them the truth.  Even though it means that he will be sent to a Siberian prison, she says that she will stand by him until his sentence is complete.  Eventually the whole thing comes out.  Dounia, Razumihin and everybody are all properly shocked but it’s like a weight comes off his shoulders once he finally confesses.  He does slip back into a period where he is basically a jerk to everyone around him, but little by little with Sonia’s care he returns to normalcy.

I really enjoyed this book despite its great length.  That is what took me so long, just getting through it.  Dostoevsky also is extremely wordy and descriptive.  I did find myself skimming through some hefty chapters because it was basically rambling thoughts on behalf of the characters.  Raskolnikov was perplexing.  I don’t know if he was crazy or maybe just a homicidal maniac.  Did he really believe all that crap about doing the public a service?  He had thoughts of murdering other people:  Porfiry, Svidgrailov, almost everyone he came into contact because he thought they were out to get him.  He’s the one that committed a heinous crime!  Why should they not be after him.

I give Dostoevsky an A-.  I would give him an A+ but he lost points for being so damn verbose.  I am guilty of that myself, but enough’s enough sometimes.  Next, I’d like to read William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury for my book club but I can’t find it online, so I might go with Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.


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