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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 8

Raskolnikov's journey to confession takes him first to Sonia. Because she has been so afraid that he might commit suicide, she greets him first with joy. But the change in his mood astounds her. He has come for her crosses, he says.

Dostoevsky has chosen this image for a very specific reason. The cross, in Christian symbolism, is the ultimate sign of human suffering. But because it is Christ's sacrifice for mankind that the cross reminds us of, it also has divine meanings. When Raskolnikov asks for the crosses-including the one that had been Lizaveta's-he is saying that he is asking for God's forgiveness and accepting the idea that he must be humble before that ultimate sacrifice, Christ's death.

But can he possibly be sincere? This is the man who has just insisted that he is not guilty of any crime. And Sonia realizes that there is something unnatural, even artificial, in his request.

He explains that he despises the crowds who will point their fingers at him, so he wants to humiliate himself. If he is no better than a criminal, he must punish himself for his failure to be an extraordinary man. The humility of the cross is a way to demean himself publicly.

NOTE:

Whatever feelings Raskolnikov has for Sonia don't come to the surface in this scene. He doesn't tell her that he loves her, or even why he has chosen to use her method of confession. Some readers argue that he hasn't realized yet how important she is to him emotionally. He is still too concerned with himself and his own misery. Other, less sympathetic, readers think this is another example of Raskolnikov's selfish and repulsive personality. The only way he knows how to deal with people is to use them for his own purposes, they argue.

Insisting that he will go through with his confession alone, Raskolnikov leaves Sonia. Briefly, he wonders why he has gone to see her at all. His only answer is that he needed her tears; he needed to know that there was still somebody who cared about him. What a comedown, he sneers at himself, for somebody who had such a high opinion of himself!


As he moves through the crowd of drunks and beggars in the Haymarket, he is disgusted by them, but he follows Sonia's instructions. In the center of the crossroads (notice the repetition of the Christian image of the cross), he kneels down and kisses the ground. A crowd gathers around, sure he is drunk. He tries to say the words "I am a murderer," but can't quite get them out. As he moves away, he sees Sonia watching him.

In a flash, he recognizes that they will be together always, but it is hardly a moment of joy. He doesn't even acknowledge her presence. Instead, he goes directly to the police station, to the place where he had fainted two weeks before.

It's ironically funny that he meets the loud lieutenant, Ilya Petrovich, who tells him he has come too early if he wants to do any business. The officer rattles on, apologizing for having thought badly of the young man, oblivious to the reason for Raskolnikov's presence. The one startling piece of news in all of his chatter is that Svidrigailov has shot himself.

Raskolnikov is shocked; he suddenly realizes what we have known for a long time: that the only person-besides Sonia and Dunya-who knows the truth about him is dead. Lightheaded, he makes his way out of the police station. He has been saved! he thinks.

But there, just outside the entrance, Sonia is waiting. Looks, but no words, pass between them. Raskolnikov turns back to the office.

"It was I who killed the old woman and her sister, Lizaveta, with an axe...."

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