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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 5

Raskolnikov confronts Svidrigailov with his suspicions, but Svidrigailov is not intimidated. Indeed, he uses the opportunity to remind Raskolnikov that he knows about the murder. And he urges him to run away to America. Svidrigailov is more cunning than Raskolnikov; he manages to throw the young man off his trail. He is alone in time to meet Dunya for the final time.

She is suspicious of him still, and insists they conduct their conversation in the street. He acts straight-forward, but the reader learns immediately that he is lying. He says that Sonia is at home when he knows she is not, and so persuades Dunya to come to his room; further, he leads her to believe that his landlady, is in the next room, which is also a lie. Dostoevsky is making it clear that this is a man who can't be trusted, especially when his sexual desires are involved.

Though she is frightened, Dunya is also determined to understand what Svidrigailov has suggested in his letter to her: that her brother is guilty of crime. She insists that it is a lie, but Svidrigailov doesn't pull any punches. He says he heard Raskolnikov's confession to Sonia.

Obviously he paid detailed attention, for he's able to repeat not only her brother's practical reasons-his need for money-but also Raskolnikov's theory about extraordinary people. Curiously, like Porfiry Petrovich, Svidrigailov seems to understand Raskolnikov, and even to observe that what is bothering him most is humiliation. It's been a blow for Raskolnikov to have to admit that he is not a man of genius, Svidrigailov explains.

Dunya, on the other hand, is horrified; surely her brother must have a conscience! Why hasn't he confessed? Many readers share Dunya's reaction.

Svidrigailov, taking advantage of her distress, offers to make everything right. He will get tickets, provide the money, take care of getting Raskolnikov out of the country. Once again he's trying to make himself indispensable. But Dunya will have none of it. Desperately she tries to leave, but the doors are locked. Notice how carefully Svidrigailov, in contrast to Raskolnikov, executes his plan. No open doors for him!


Once more Svidrigailov tries to assure her that everything will be all right- but at what cost! The price he asks is Dunya's love and submission. Abject in his begging, he swears that if she will have him, he will do anything she wants. He nearly loses control of himself in his eagerness for her. Trapped, Dunya calls for help, but, as we already know, there is no one to hear.

Dunya is revolted by the idea of Svidrigailov touching her. As Svidrigailov realizes that, a frightening change comes over him. He threatens her. He has her just where he wants her. How can she resist when she knows that her brother's life is at stake? And after all, he says, she did come to his room, didn't she? What did she think would happen?

Her indignation doesn't affect him. If anything, it pushes him further. You can buy your brother's freedom, he pleads. Who could blame you for that?

But Dunya has come prepared. She pulls a revolver from her purse, and points it directly at her tormentor. Svidrigailov is astonished. And he's even more astonished when she shoots, grazing his forehead with the bullet.

If the scene between them were not so potentially tragic, it would be funny. Clearly he is capable of seizing the gun, of overpowering her in an instant. But for some reason he doesn't do it. He waits.

She fires again, but the gun misfires. She has a horrible realization, a deep insight into this strange man: he would rather die than let her go.

NOTE:

The intensity of the scene between Dunya and Svidrigailov is heightened by the fact that the narrator is telling us about both their thoughts at once. Usually, in Crime and Punishment, one character or the other is stressed, but in this scene Dostoevsky wants us to see both Dunya's potential for violence and Svidrigailov's desperate efforts at self-control.

For a moment, Svidrigailov seems to have won. Dunya throws down the gun, and he gently embraces her shaking body. But once more Dunya rejects his advances, begging him to leave her alone. When she insists she can never love him, he is a stricken man. Suddenly he hands her the key, saying, "Take it; leave quickly! Quickly! Quickly!" The terrible tone of his voice frightens her, and it should. He is barely able to control himself.

Think again of a comparison with Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov at least has Sonia to love him. Dunya despises Svidrigailov and he's forced to acknowledge that fact. All she leaves behind is her revolver, and Svidrigailov leaves the room with it in his pocket.

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