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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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PART I, CHAPTER 4

Summary

Raskolnikov is troubled after reading the letter. He believes that his sister, Dounia, has agreed to marry Luzhin only to help him financially. He begins to despise Luzhin. He compares Dounia's fate to that of the prostitute, Sonia. He believes that he must do something to rescue Sonia from her fate. An evil thought springs to his mind.

As he walks down the street, Raskolnikov notices an intoxicated teenage prostitute who is being followed by a stout man of about thirty. Raskolnikov is filled with revulsion at the sight and insults the man, telling him to keep away from the girl. He even gets a policeman involved.

Raskolnikov gives the girl twenty kopecks and advises her to go home. However, instead of listening to him, the girl insults Raskolnikov and continues to seduce her would-be client. This time, Raskolnikov does not bother to interfere. He then decides to visit an "old university friend" of his, a certain Razumihin, whom he has not seen in four months. Razumihin is very poor, but also intelligent.


Notes

Raskolnikov's pride, insecurity and pessimism are on display here. Instead of viewing Dounia's betrothal to Luzhin as a positive development, he looks on it with suspicion and loathing. Raskolnikov is unable to provide sustenance for his family, and he finds it threatening that a stranger, Luzhin, is willing to act as the provider. He distrusts Luzhin's motives. He believes that Dounia, who is not in love with Luzhin, is making a sacrifice for the sake of her family by marrying this man. (Female self-sacrifice motivated by financial hardship is a very common theme in Dostoevsky's novels. It makes "prostitution" into a metaphor for marriage itself.) Raskolnikov believes that he must do something to save himself and his family from the impending 'catastrophe' that he believes Dounia's marriage will become. But the wicked plan is not revealed here by Dostoevsky. The reader knows only that Raskolnikov is planning to undertake some evil deed.

Yet, even while Raskolnikov contemplates evil, he is inspired to do good. His attempts to save the young prostitute may have ended in failure, but they do reveal the merciful side of Raskolnikov. The young prostitute probably reminds him of Marmeladov's daughter, Sonia, or even of his own sister, Dounia, who is giving herself in marriage to Luzhin for the sake of money. The stout man whom Raskolnikov compares to the evil Svidirigailov is a symbol of all men who misuse young girls for their own pleasure. The young prostitute does not wish to be saved, and Raskolnikov is defeated in this venture. In any case, Raskolnikov does suddenly and inexplicably lose his enthusiasm for helping the girl, just as he quickly regrets his act of charity toward the Marmeladovs in Chapter 2.

He now desires to see his university friend, Razumihin. Thus, Raskolnikov has a need to maintain human relationships. He also has delusions of grandeur, and sees himself as "a future Zeus," who will take care of his family.

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