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Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What does the fresh air that Svidrigaïlov and Porfiry recommend for Raskolnikov represent in Crime and Punishment?

Fresh air is recommended to Raskolnikov by two characters, Svidrigaïlov and Porfiry, who know he is guilty of murder. In Part 6 fresh air represents freedom from the oppression of Raskolnikov's guilt for the crimes. Porfiry also expresses a hope in Part 6, Chapter 2, that a storm will "freshen the air," implying that Raskolnikov's only way to find this freedom is through the storm of confession and suffering. "Fresh air" may also refer to the more rural landscape of Siberia, where Raskolnikov serves his prison sentence, far from Saint Petersburg's crowded metropolis. Significantly, when Raskolnikov realizes he loves Sonia in Part 2 of the Epilogue, they are standing near a river with a view of the countryside. Finally, fresh air is a Christian symbol of both the soul and redemption.

How does Porfiry's evaluation of the case in Part 6, Chapter 2, of Crime and Punishment express Dostoevsky's point of view about the new morality?

In Part 6, Chapter 2, Porfiry describes the murders as "a modern case, an incident of to-day when the heart of man is troubled, when the phrase is quoted that blood 'renews,' when comfort is preached as the aim of life." Porfiry's description refers to two socialist ideas during the time the novel is set. First, comfort is the primary value for which to strive, rather than good. Second is the need for a radical overhaul, or "renewal," of society through bloody revolution. This clearly expresses Dostoevsky's disapproval of the new morality that was becoming popular at the time. He felt that these new ways of thinking were dangerous to society. In Raskolnikov's case they inspire an otherwise good young man to commit a heinous crime.

How is Svidrigaïlov's suffering in Part 6, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment similar to Raskolnikov's throughout the novel?

The night before Svidrigaïlov's suicide in Part 6, Chapter 6, he experiences many of the same symptoms that Raskolnikov has throughout the novel, including loss of appetite, fever, annoyance at small things, and the inability to keep his mind from racing. Like Raskolnikov, he has vivid fever dreams that are hard to tell from reality. In their dreams both men are haunted by the victims of their crimes. Raskolnikov dreams that he tries to kill Alyona again but she will not die. Instead she laughs at him. Svidrigaïlov dreams of a young girl in a coffin whose suicide he caused. "Svidrigaïlov knew that girl; there was no holy image, no burning candle beside the coffin; no sound of prayers: the girl had drowned herself. She was only fourteen, but her heart was broken."

What feelings toward his crimes are revealed by Svidrigaïlov's dreams the night before his suicide in Part 6, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment?

Svidrigaïlov has three distinct dreams the night before his suicide, all of which address his feelings of guilt for his crimes. The first dream, of a mouse running over him in bed, is reminiscent of his unpleasant vision of the afterlife as a room crawling with spiders, suggesting he is afraid of suffering in the afterlife for his crimes. His second dream starts as a beautiful vision of a cottage covered inside and out with flowers, but it ends with him face to face with one of his victims in a coffin, symbolically confronting him with his guilt. In the third dream, he finds a lost child in the hall and tries to protect her, only to have her face turn into the face of a depraved harlot. This suggests he is horrified by his corrupting influence on innocent girls.

What does Svidrigaïlov's reference to America symbolize in Part 6, Chapter 6, of Crime and Punishment?

Svidrigaïlov's last words to the guard who is about to witness his suicide are "When you are asked, you just say he was going, he said, to America." Because America is so far from Russia, a trip there would usually be one way, making it an appropriate symbol for the one-way trip to death and the unknown Svidrigaïlov is about to take. Svidrigaïlov's reference to America may also be a fantasy of escape from his present suffering. A journey to a faraway country, with a new language and culture, often represents the dream of reinventing one's self.

In Part 6, Chapter 8, of Crime and Punishment, why does Raskolnikov bow down and kiss the ground before entering the police station?

Sonia advises Rakolnikov to bow down and kiss the ground in Part 5, Chapter 4: "Stand at the cross-roads, bow down, first kiss the earth which you have defiled and then bow down to all the world and say to all men aloud, 'I am a murderer!'" He does not do this until Part 6, Chapter 8, and even then, not completely. He kisses that "filthy earth with bliss and rapture," but he does not fully confess until his second trip into the police station. Nonetheless, when he bows down and kisses the ground, it is a huge step forward in his spiritual journey, and for the first time he experiences religious feelings of "bliss and rapture." He is humbling himself by kissing "that filthy earth," coming down from the heights of his superiority and, no longer alienated, able to join the world again. Significantly, he performs this action in a public square, unashamed and surrounded by the humankind he once claimed to loathe.

Why does Raskolnikov feel suffocated as he leaves the police station in Part 6, Chapter 8, of Crime and Punishment?

In Part 6, Chapter 8, after hearing of Svidrigaïlov's suicide, Raskolnikov leaves the police station without confessing. The knowledge that Svidrigaïlov can no longer reveal Raskolnikov's secret is a relief to him, but it does not mean his problems are over. Suffocation is the opposite of the fresh air that Porfiry and Svidrigaïlov recommended for him. By turning away from confession, he is stepping off the path to the fresh air of freedom and continuing his claustrophobic suffering. The feeling of suffocation also recalls Raskolnikov's cramped, stuffy garret where he holed up and hatched his plan to kill the pawnbroker. Raskolnikov has spent much of the novel being figuratively unable to breathe as his guilt closes in around him.

In Crime and Punishment compare Pulcheria's illness in Part 1 of the Epilogue to Katerina Ivanovna's illness. What does this reveal about the theme of suffering?

Pulcheria's illness, described in Part 1 of the Epilogue, is characterized by fantasies that help her escape from brutal facts. She pretends Raskolnikov is leading a successful life. In fact, he is in a Siberian prison camp serving a sentence for murder. This is similar to Katerina Ivanovna's tendency to spin fantasies exaggerating the importance of an acquaintance or good things that she wants to happen in the future. Both women's delusions stem from a sort of cognitive dissonance in which their deeply held beliefs about the world conflict too profoundly with reality to be reconciled. Katerina Ivanovna believed that her father's social status should give her greater respect than she received, but her life constantly proved otherwise. Pulcheria's deep faith that her son is a great man conflicts with her knowledge that he is a murderer. The suffering of these discrepancies, created by family and society, proves too much for both women to hold on to sanity or, ultimately, survive.

How does Raskolnikov's alienation continue in the Epilogue of Crime and Punishment?

The setting of the Epilogue, a Siberian prison, is built for alienation: it is isolated geographically and socially. The setting thus increases Raskolnikov's alienation from his family members, who are far away in Saint Petersburg. As a prison its role is to create a kind of social alienation as well, cutting off criminals from the rest of society. Raskolnikov can create plenty of alienation of his own, of course. For most of the Epilogue, he tries to push Sonia away. He also alienates his fellow prisoners to the point that they try to attack him. Most importantly, he continues to be alienated from himself by refusing to stop rationalizing his crime. He prolongs his own suffering because he refuses to allow himself to face what he has done and heal. This alienates him from compassion, love, and redemption.

In Crime and Punishment's Epilogue, Part 2, how does Raskolnikov begin a new life?

Like Lazarus, Raskolnikov's path to new life begins with an illness. After being sick for a long time, Raskolnikov's defenses begin to break down. He stops being so absorbed with hating himself and starts opening up to the world around him. He begins to see the humanity of his fellow prisoners, and he opens himself to the beauty of nature, which he hasn't been able to enjoy since early in the novel. When he sees Sonia, Raskolnikov is finally able to accept her love and express love for her in return. He begins to consider faith again. Although the narrator tells the reader this is just the beginning of his journey, he has taken the first step toward a new life.

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