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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 3

The picture of poverty that has already been introduced in the first two chapters is expanded even more in the description of Raskolnikov's room and his desperate existence.

NOTE:

The dusty, shredding wallpaper in Raskolnikov's garret is yellow, a color Dostoevsky uses repeatedly in the novel to suggest decay, degeneracy, and corruption. The pawnbroker's fur jacket is yellow with age; the identity card Sonia carries as a prostitute is yellow. Near the end of the novel, when Svidrigailov has the dream that drives him to suicide, the wallpaper in the room is yellow, too (Part VI, Chapter 6). As you read the novel, watch for other examples of this color symbolism.

Raskolnikov's feelings about his family are the most important things we discover in this chapter, as he reads a long awaited letter from his mother. It is strange to think of Raskolnikov as a loving son after the ways he has behaved up until this point in the novel, but his affection for his mother and sister is critical to any sympathetic understanding of him. Many readers think it's the most normal thing about him.

The letter reveals that his mother and sister have had a dreadful two months, too, during the time he's been so isolated. And their problems become his problems, including Dunya's difficulties with the lecherous Svidrigailov, her former employer. Because the letter arrives when it does, the news of his sister Dunya's engagement to the civil servant Luzhin becomes a critical factor in Raskolnikov's final decision to carry out his terrible plan. Or, at least, it's a good excuse.


For much of the chapter, Raskolnikov is passive, as he was in Chapter 2. As he reads the letter, there is at first no evidence of his reaction. What Dostoevsky asks us to do is form our own opinion of what Pulkheria Raskolnikova is telling her son. You hear two things: (1) the essentially factual account of Svidrigailov's attempts to seduce Dunya while she was his children's governess; and (2) the more ambiguous account of Dunya's engagement.

Raskolnikov's mother repeats several of her points for emphasis. Dunya is an angel who loves her brother. Luzhin has some unpleasant qualities, but he is very successful. And the marriage is going to guarantee Raskolnikov's future. She tells him that, because her credit has improved on the strength of the proposed marriage, she will be able to send him thirty roubles to tide him over, especially if she economizes and travels third class to St. Petersburg for Dunya's wedding. Thirty roubles is so clear a reminder of Sonia's earnings as a prostitute that the suggestion of Dunya selling herself for her family is inescapable.

Raskolnikov is so furious when he finishes the letter that he must escape from his room; his anger should confirm your uneasy sense that something about the proposed marriage is very wrong. But notice again that Dostoevsky doesn't tell you what to think.

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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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