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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov

The character of Svidrigailov has been drawn as both a parallel and a contrast to that of Raskolnikov. He is detached and cold in the exercise of his will, but seeks only power and pleasure for himself. He has no desire to serve others or to act on behalf of society, although he is given to occasional bouts of charity to attain his goals. At first glance, he seems to be a brutal man, determined to fulfill his sensual needs. After his wife's death he follows Dounia from her hometown to St. Petersburg with the express intention of seducing her. His first attempts at winning her love had failed during his wife's lifetime.

His presence in St. Petersburg disturbs Raskolnikov, who correctly suspects that Svidrigailov's intentions are vile. When they first meet in Part IV, Chapter 1, he seeks Raskolnikov's assistance to meet Dounia. However, Raskolnikov refuses to help, for as he tells Razumihin in the next chapter, he is "afraid of that man." Strangely, Svidrigailov reveals terrible secrets of his cruelty to his dead wife, Marfa Petrovna. He even offers financial help to save Dounia from a loveless marriage to Luzhin. His intimacy with Raskolnikov here shows that they do share some common traits. Svidrigailov himself emphasizes this fact when he says: "There's something about you like me." They are both variants of the "superior" man, trying to assert their wills and desires over others.


That Svidrigailov is a sadist is clear from his cruel beating of his wife and his brutal treatment of his deaf-mute servant. He is a depraved sensualist concerned only with his self-gratification. However, there are times when he alternates between extremes of cruelty and apparent kindness. When Katerina Marmeladov is dying, he appears on the scene and offers to make all arrangements to look after her orphaned chidden. However, this does not erase the unsavory details of his general selfishness and sadism. He also eavesdrops on others' private conversations. In Chapter 3 of Part VI, he reveals disgusting details of his infatuation for a 16 year-old girl, although he still harbors secret desires for Dounia. So Raskolnikov concludes he is the most "vile, nasty, depraved" man that he knows.

In his final encounter with Dounia, Svidrigailov reveals himself in all his vulgarity. He tries to forcibly seduce her by using his knowledge of Raskolnikov's guilt in the recent murders as a piece of emotional blackmail. He tries to assert the power of his will over hers, but fails. He then realizes that Dounia can kill him with her gun. However, in her nervous state, she misses him even at point-blank range. When she rejects him totally, he knows he is "utterly alone." There is only one course of action left open to him, the final act of his assertion of will. Ironically, he 'wills' his death by committing suicide later that night, after giving away his money to Dounia and to Sonia.

He is, thus, the embodiment of all that is vile. He consciously rejects what is good in life. Unlike Raskolnikov, he neither seeks redemption nor could he accept it if it were given to him.

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