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PART IV, CHAPTER 1
The dramatic entrance astounds Raskolnikov. But, for the moment, Raskolnikov's problems are put aside. Svidrigailov has come on very particular business.
The beginning of this chapter demonstrates the novelist's technique of building up a moment of tension and then defusing it so that more details can be added to the plot. In that way, the novel is a kind of emotional roller coaster for the reader as well as the participants.
Svidrigailov, Dunya's former employer, wants to enlist Raskolnikov's aid in seeing Dunya again, now that his wife is dead. When he doesn't get much response, he demands, "Am I a monster or am I myself a victim?" That is the critical question, not only about Svidrigailov, but about Raskolnikov as well. The parallels have begun.
When Raskolnikov accuses him of being responsible for his wife, Marfa Petrovna's, death, Svidrigailov insists his conscience is clear. That sounds familiar too. Part of his explanation makes him particularly offensive, though. Women, he claims, like to be affronted and outraged, even beaten a little now and then.
Notice, though, that in some ways he is more tolerable than the self- righteous Luzhin. He is candid about himself and observant of others. He explains that he used to be a gambler, and that Marfa Petrovna paid off his gambling debt; in turn he married her. His most striking characteristic is his total boredom. He has tried many things, and has no desire to do them again. The only new idea he has is for a "journey," which is not defined. But suicide is surely implied.
The ghost of Marfa Petrovna haunts Svidrigailov. Raskolnikov tries to tell himself that Svidrigailov is crazy, but the latter keeps insisting that the two of them have a great deal in common. Most readers agree-as Dostoevsky wants them to.
Raskolnikov doesn't want to think about that possibility. It's too close to what he fears is the truth. The more Svidrigailov talks, the clearer the similarities become: he too is repulsed by Luzhin and convinced that Dunya is selling herself for the family's good. He wants to make her a present of 10,000 roubles so that she won't have to go through with the marriage. Raskolnikov is astounded.
Svidrigailov's explanation seems to make sense. He did Dunya harm; now he wants to do good. He has no ulterior motive, he insists, and may, in fact, soon marry someone else. But he does want to see Dunya one more time.
The reader is not sure how to answer the question Svidrigailov asked in the beginning. Is he a scoundrel or a victim? Both seem possible, at this point.