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• SOFYA SEMENOVNA MARMELADOVA (SONIA)
Sonia, whose name comes from the Greek word for wisdom, shows Raskolnikov the way to redemption. But she is a contradictory, or dual, character, too. Like some other women in literature, she is portrayed as a combination of the madonna and the whore, a woman whose soul is pure even though her body is defiled.
Sonia has become a prostitute because her father is a drunk, unable to support his family. But, miraculously, she seems untouched by her experience, although she acknowledges the brutal truth that life on the street has only three possible outcomes: suicide, madness, or corruption. It is because she is sinful that Raskolnikov is able to confide in her; but it is because she believes in God that she is able to help him.
She is in the best position to understand the split in his character, because she is intimately connected with both sides of it. He befriends her family at the time of her father's death, and he defends her against a false charge of theft. Yet he has killed her friend Lizaveta, the pawnbroker's sister, and he continually reminds her of the misery of her life and the uselessness of her sacrifice.
Dostoevsky stresses Sonia's belief in the power of suffering. She is fervent in her belief in God and trusts that he will reward her misery. If there will be positive results, she can tolerate her shame-perhaps even welcome it. The novel affirms her faith, at least to some extent. By the end of Crime and Punishment, Sonia's brother and sisters have been placed in a good orphanage; she is able to leave her life as a prostitute; and Raskolnikov repents and is redeemed.
Readers respond to Sonia in different ways. You may agree with those who think she is nearly perfect. The religious themes in the novel center around her, and she exemplifies perfect human love, which accepts others with all their failings and asks nothing in return. For example, she struggles to understand the complexity of Raskolnikov's inner turmoil and loves him anyway, even while he is cruel and uncaring to her.
If you find all her goodness rather cloying and unrealistic, however, you are not alone. Many readers think she's too good, too passive, too willing to suffer without complaint. She rarely exerts herself or insists on her rights. While Raskolnikov seems very modern in his anguish and alienation, Sonia seems old-fashioned and limited.
Remember that your personal reaction is only one part of evaluating a character. You also have to take into account what the author intended. Because there is nothing in the text that is critical of Sonia, a reader must recognize that Dostoevsky meant her to be the chief exemplar of goodness in the novel. Deciding whether she is believable or likeable is one thing. Discussing how she fits into Dostoevsky's view of the world is another.
• PORFIRY PETROVICH
Porfiry represents the authority of the state, or the law, in his pursuit of Raskolnikov. His technique is modeled, in part, on the type of detective that was so popular in 19th-century fiction-an investigator who is able to solve difficult crimes by rational deduction rather than physical investigation.
Although Porfiry does "solve" the case by deducing that Raskolnikov is guilty, his skills as a detective are not of primary interest to Dostoevsky. Rather, the novelist concentrates on the duel of wills between Porfiry and Raskolnikov, two brilliant and egotistical men with very different ideas about what is important in life.
Porfiry is the only character who is Raskolnikov's intellectual equal, and the only one who understands the complex motives for his crime. The ironic, mocking tone he uses to talk to Raskolnikov reminds some readers of the arrogance Raskolnikov himself shows other people. The investigator's emphasis on psychological analysis as a way of detecting criminals is almost as revolutionary as Raskolnikov's belief in crimes of principle. The major difference between them is that Porfiry's theory stresses the social good, while Raskolnikov's means social anarchy. Some critics suggest that Dostoevsky intends Porfiry to represent Russian solutions to Russian problems in contrast to the Western European sources of Raskolnikov's mistaken theories.
Dostoevsky shows Porfiry opposed to both the legal and the moral transgressions of Raskolnikov's crime. He isn't that interested in putting the criminal behind bars; instead, he's committed to getting Raskolnikov to admit the error of his ways. He embodies Dostoevsky's belief that punishment that is imposed on a criminal does little good if the man himself rejects his own guilt.
Porfiry appears only three times in the novel, but many readers believe he is the second most important character. They argue that without him, Raskolnikov would never have been suspected and, more important, would never have been rehabilitated. Porfiry's success illustrates Dostoevsky's position as a conservative thinker who supports conformity to the law and traditional Christian ethics as the foundations of a productive life.
Porfiry's biggest fans insist that the reason he doesn't appear more often, and simply disappears before the end of the story, is that he's really more interesting and appealing than Raskolnikov. They think that if he were in more of the scenes he would become the novel's hero. There's no way to prove this idea, though. It seems pretty clear that this is Raskolnikov's story.