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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 4

Raskolnikov goes straight to Sonia. Her room, like his, shows the profound poverty in which she lives. The yellowish wallpaper recalls the decadence and disillusion discussed earlier. Raskolnikov's preoccupation makes it hard for him to focus, and he's vague, even confused. Once more, his instability is the most predictable thing about him.

But he does pay attention to Sonia, and his compassion for her distracts him from his own misery. Her ability to feel pity for others, especially her wretched stepmother, is boundless. The more Sonia explains how desperate and muddled the older woman is, the more obvious it becomes to Raskolnikov (and to us) that she doesn't want to face the inevitable. He tries to force her to face reality, though, and admit that Katerina Ivanovna is incapable of caring for herself or the children, and that Sonia herself will have to support them-a hopeless task.

His honesty seems cruel to Sonia, and intolerable. "God will not allow it," she insists. That is her chief defense against all of the terrible possibilities that Raskolnikov describes. Raskolnikov torments her: "Perhaps God does not exist."

But his cynicism can't endure for long in the face of her suffering. Or maybe it's just that he has an emotional need for her full attention. He falls to the ground and kisses her feet, the classic Christian gesture of humility and adoration.


Painfully, he explains that he honors her because of her great suffering. It is true, he says, that she is a sinner and her greatest sin has been to suffer in vain. All of his bitterness and disbelief pour out: you are helping nobody, he insists. All you have suffered is a total waste. Why don't you commit suicide?

Though she doesn't understand everything he says, she doesn't seem surprised at that question. Has she asked herself the same thing, Raskolnikov wonders. What's stopping her? He seems to have forgotten his own decision, not long before, to go on living.

His thoughts run wildly on. What choices does she have? Suicide? Insanity? Corruption and debauchery? How can she go on with her life the way it is? He clings to the idea that she is insane. That explains everything. You might find some ironic humor in his conclusions. Isn't calling him crazy the only way other people can explain Raskolnikov's behavior?

Out of the blue, he asks, "Do you pray a great deal to God?" His scorn is obvious. This time he has gone too far, and Sonia indignantly tells him he is not worthy to question God.

Suddenly, Lizaveta's New Testament is in his hand, and he asks Sonia to find him the story of the raising of Lazarus and to read it aloud. (The story, about Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead, is found in the Gospel of John, Chapter 11.)

As she reads the story, with its message of hope and salvation, she has a hard time but keeps on reading. She is nearly ecstatic as she reads of the miracle of Lazarus coming back to life. Then she can read no more. Silent minutes pass.

Raskolnikov finally interrupts, changing the subject once more: he has come to tell her something and he must do it. He has deserted his family. Sonia is all he has left. Sonia is frightened and confused. He insists that they are both lost souls and must suffer together. But he is raving; she can't figure out what he's talking about.

His parting words disturb her even more: tomorrow, if he comes, he will tell her who killed Lizaveta.

Sonia is upset but also strangely happy. It never occurs to her who the murderer is. But unknown to both of them, their conversation has been overheard by her fascinated new neighbor, identified for the first time as Svidrigailov. This is the coincidence Dostoevsky foreshadowed in Part III, Chapter 4.

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