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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Sonia Semyonovna Marmeladov

Sonia, like Raskolnikov, is a figure who suffers deeply, but through no fault of the own. She willingly chooses to lead the degrading life of a prostitute in her desperate and genuine effort to help the starving members of her father's family. As he is an alcoholic who has lost his job, Sonia is forced to step in and help support her father's second wife and all her children. Since she realizes that the life she has chosen as a "fallen woman" is evil, one may label her "the saintly prostitute" or "the prostitute with a heart of gold." She uses evil means to secure noble ends and falls victim to an unsavory life. But the spirit of self-sacrifice, rather than self- promotion, has led her to that fate.

In this respect, Sonia is different from Raskolnikov, who chooses his evil path partly out of a desire to help others, but also because he seeks to advance himself. Through the example of her sufferings and her social and moral degradation, she brings home to Raskolnikov the vanity of his own pretensions. She has chosen a life of evil so as to help others. Besides, she offers him the deep understanding and compassion that he is too proud to accept from others. In fact, it is her abiding faith in him that gives Raskolnikov the strength to confess his crime at last when he has almost given up all intentions of doing so.

Sonia also stands by, silently and patiently, during the first year of Raskolnikov's imprisonment in Siberia, even though he behaves in a rather indifferent and withdrawn manner towards her. Her patience is ultimately rewarded when, at the close of the Epilogue, the reader sees how Raskolnikov finally accepts her love and sacrifice unabashedly. She helps him, by her unswerving loyalty and support, to begin the slow, painful process of his moral regeneration and social rehabilitation. Sonia's kindness extends even to the other suffering prisoners, who regard her as an angel of mercy. On behalf of the prisoners, she writes letters to their families, and also brings food parcels for them.


Thus, Dostoevsky presents us with a deeply sympathetic portrait of this "prostitute." In the novel, she functions as a passive figure of suffering and ironically becomes one of the main agents of Raskolnikov's redemption. Through her deep compassion and infinite capacity for love, she touches the heart and soul of the criminal in Raskolnikov. Although she says and does fairly little in the novel, it is her silent support and sympathy that forces Raskolnikov to confess and to change his evil ways. It is the inner strength of her character that comes shining through in each successive encounter between her and Raskolnikov.

Her quiet, unassuming presence and her willingness to serve him and suffer along with him in both St. Petersburg and in Siberia impress him deeply.

The character of Sonia, thus, epitomizes the fact of how the world wrongs such gentle, submissive women and often regards them with cold contempt. Society, with all its false pride and prejudices, heaps further abuse on the heads of such wronged women. This is evident in Luzhin's patently false accusations against her. The reader admires the stoic calm and forbearance with which Sonia faces Luzhin's attempts to falsely label her as a common thief. Fortunately, his foul and malicious slander against her is exposed by Lebeziatnikov. Despite the fact that she has been severely degraded by the type of life she leads, she never once loses either her faith in God or in the essential goodness of man. She thus becomes a heroic character of super-human proportions because of her goodness.

Porfiry Petrovitch

He is a rather unusual officer in the St. Petersburg police force. Porfiry is an intellectual type who has a fairly advanced knowledge of human psychology, especially the psyche of a criminal mind like Raskolnikov's. Like Sonia, he is another agent of salvation in the life of the protagonist of Crime and Punishment. He is not a selfish or self-serving individual, but one who believes in using his intellect for the benefit of others. He has a firm faith that Russia will one day become a great nation and a moral leader. Hence, he is convinced that even a cunning criminal like Raskolnikov has strengths that must be re-channeled into doing good for his motherland in the future.

It is his faith in Raskolnikov's potential for future goodness that helps Porfiry save this criminal by bringing him to confess his crime voluntarily. At one level, Porfiry plays the rather astute detective assigned to a baffling case of double murder. He employs a subtle cat-and-mouse game of gentle hints and casually revealed suspicions that play upon Raskolnikov's mind. Porfiry makes the suspect believe that his secret is out. At the same time, this clever police detective allays Raskolnikov's fears of arrest and gives him a false sense of security. He hopes, thereby, that the murderer will soon give himself away by over-playing his hand. He is confident that by using such psychologically subtle modes of crime detection, he can get Raskolnikov to break down and confess.

Such an approach, Porfiry knows full well, will pay rich dividends only with an intelligent person and not with all types of depraved criminals. He understands that Raskolnikov is intelligent but that he deceives himself by his far-fetched theories of the "extraordinary man." Porfiry realizes Raskolnikov's mind has been wrongly influenced by new and radical ideas drawn from Western European thinkers. He hopes to bring this radical young Russian back to the realization that such alien and imported ideas are not exactly suited to the native genius and social conditions of Russia. Porfiry encourages him to re-think his entire strategies for changing things in Russia and advises him to rely more upon indigenous ways of thinking and doing things.

Porfiry understands that when Raskolnikov realizes his own true potential, he will first confess his crime and then suffer his punishment without resentment. Ultimately, he will redeem his criminal past with a future life of devoted service to his own motherland. Hence, he strongly suggests that Raskolnikov should confess, suffer punishment and compensate for his crime.

Porfiry, along with Sonia, breaks down Raskolnikov's resistance to the idea of confession. He reveals that the police know enough to arrest him and to have him tried and convicted. However, he offers the tantalizing bait that a voluntary confession from Raskolnikov might help to shorten his sentence. This clever ploy succeeds and a few days later, with Sonia's support, Raskolnikov finally gives himself up to the police. Thus, Dostoevsky shows Porfiry as a man ahead of his time. For a policeman, he is a progressive thinker and has a humanitarian approach to the problem of solving violent crime.

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