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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 7

Once more Dostoevsky suggests, by the pattern of the novel, connections between events that in some ways seem unrelated. This chapter, immediately following Svidrigailov's suicide, begins with Raskolnikov on his way to visit his mother. This visit too is a farewell. And because he too has spent the night wandering in the rain, he looks especially disreputable.

NOTE:

Dostoevsky suggests that the fury of the evening's storm has been in sympathy with the frenzy of Raskolnikov's mood, the "inward strife" that has plagued him. This literary device of having nature be responsive to human feelings is called the pathetic fallacy. In reality of course, nature doesn't respond to our moods, but people are comforted by the thought that it does.

Raskolnikov's mother tries desperately not to ask too many questions or to upset him. But the terror she feels wells up to the surface. Her transparent feelings don't anger him, though, as they have done before. He has come on a mission: to ask if she will always love him, no matter what happens. He also wants to tell her that he loves her very much and always has.

This is a new side of Raskolnikov. There is no arrogance, no cynicism, no bitterness in his tone. And when he asks her to pray for him, there is no mockery. Moved by his mother's agony at his situation, he is able to act like a son again.

When he returns to his room, he finds Dunya waiting for him. He is able to be honest and loving with her too. To quiet her fears, he admits that he spent the night wandering along the river thinking of suicide, but that he could not kill himself.

NOTE:

Chapter 7 presents another scene in which you, the reader, know something that the characters don't realize yet: that Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov spent the same night resolved to kill themselves. And as we know, Svidrigailov did and Raskolnikov didn't. Dostoevsky wants us to figure out why, to understand how important love is in rescuing people from despair.


Raskolnikov tells us why he decided to go on living: he knew that if he killed himself it would be to save himself from shame. But his pride told him that he could survive shame. He has decided to give himself up.

It isn't because he thinks he's guilty of crime, he explains. He still rages against the idea that killing the old woman was a crime. She was such a louse, he exclaims, such an extortionist, that killing her was a favor to mankind. That's what his theory said all along.

He's giving up because he hates himself, he says, because he has to face the idea that he isn't extraordinary. His incompetence as a bold man demands that he admit the killing. Maybe this way he will be able to salvage his pride.

Dunya tries, but fails, to convince him that his ideas about crime are wrong. He insists that he believes, more strongly than ever, that his theory is right. But he respects, maybe even admires, his sister's objections and tries to comfort her. At the same time, he rebels at the idea of punishment and wonders if he shouldn't have killed himself after all. He asks a question that troubles our judicial system even today: what good will twenty years in prison do?

NOTE:

In one last moment of rebellion, Raskolnikov looks for others to blame for his predicament, but he is grasping at straws. He can't, with any justification, blame what has happened on the people who love him. But why did it happen? How did Raskolnikov reach the point of committing such a desperate act? In the novel, as in real life, the tangled web of causes and motivations remains, to some extent, a mystery.

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