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FREE Barron's Booknotes-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free
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CHAPTER 2

Raskolnikov's illness, you soon discover, is once more psychologically based, just the way his reaction to the murder had been. He's still struggling with his humiliation; his illness is the result of his wounded pride-his loss of self-respect.

After all he's been through, he still believes he's not guilty of crime. He made a huge mistake, he does admit-but anybody could have done that. The thing he can't live with is that he caved in. You might even say the only thing he's sorry about is that he got caught. And it drives him crazy that the only person he can blame for that is himself.

Worse yet, he feels he's got nothing left to live for. He's convinced that if he'd been able to get away with his crime, he would have proved he was extraordinary. It's success, he believes, that determines what's right.

NOTE:

In some ways it is tempting to accept Raskolnikov's argument about extraordinary people. History certainly shows that the victor makes the rules. And if you approve of the winner, you approve of the new way things are done. But Dostoevsky's point in this chapter is that Raskolnikov is wrong, and that the moment he decided against suicide his subconscious already knew it, even if his conscious mind didn't.


Raskolnikov does realize that he is hated and that Sonia is loved. But he can't understand what it is about her that makes people feel that way. Dostoevsky lets us see that the failing is on Raskolnikov's part, that his own inability to love and to care about people limits him as a human being.

Raskolnikov's illness comes at Easter, the Christian symbol of resurrection and rebirth. Like the sickness that struck him at the time of the murder, this one signals an important change in his life. Again, he has a frightening dream. But this time the dream has a very different effect.

His nightmare involves the entire world; everyone is infected with a strange disease. Those with the disease go mad, and consider their own ideas and convictions superior to everyone else's. Anarchy rules the world. Order dissolves. And those who are destined to lead the world into a new era can't be found. Raskolnikov can't rid himself of this image.

Then he finds out Sonia is sick, and he discovers a new feeling: he is worried about her.

When Sonia recovers enough to come to see him, a miracle has happened. Raskolnikov breaks into tears, and kneels before her. Instantly, she knows that he loves her and that they will have a future together. Dostoevsky's words are loaded with meaning: in their faces glowed "the dawn of a new future, a perfect resurrection into a new life." The Lazarus image recurs. Love has raised them from the dead.

But this love is greater than human, sexual love. It is the love of God that has shown through Sonia and her suffering. Loving her, Raskolnikov is also ready to love God. The seven years that remain on his sentence have a religious significance too, for seven is the number of creation, and the number of mystical union of man and God.

Dostoevsky ends the novel on a note of hope and joy. The past must still be expiated, but the future holds infinite promise.

NOTE:

Not all readers can accept the ending of Crime and Punishment. Many, in fact, think that this chapter of the Epilogue is artificial and unconvincing-especially because of the miraculous transformation of the main character. They argue that, despite Dostoevsky's clear intention to write a novel with the message of salvation, he has not been convincing. His failure, they say, is the result of his extraordinary success in creating the character of Raskolnikov to begin with.

Your conclusion is up to you. Either you can accept Dostoevsky's view that salvation is possible-even for Raskolnikov-or you can decide that the real solution to the novel is in Chapter One of the Epilogue. That shows a bitter and hardened protagonist whose future is uncertain and not very promising. Whichever conclusion seems more believable to you is the one you can defend-using evidence of Raskolnikov's character based on your reading of the novel, and combining that evidence with what you know about life. Each side has been brilliantly defended by scholar's and by other readers too. Remember, though, that Dostoevsky intended us to accept Raskolnikov's salvation.

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