Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Part 4, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Svidrigaïlov visits Raskolnikov in his room. He claims he has given up his designs on Dounia—he is engaged to marry someone else. He asks Raskolnikov to help him give Dounia some of his own money, as an apology. When Raskolnikov brings up his wife's death, Svidrigaïlov denies he was involved. He glosses over his behavior with Dounia as well.

Some of Svidrigaïlov's comments are disturbing. He implies that his wife, Marfa Petrovna, like all women, likes to be roughed up. He admits he was in jail for gambling when Marfa Petrovna assumed his debts and married him. He insists that her ghost has appeared to him several times since she died. Svidrigaïlov describes the afterlife as no more than a small, dark room full of spiders, and Raskolnikov wonders if Svidrigaïlov is mentally unstable.

Raskolnikov first flatly refuses Svidrigaïlov's request but finally agrees to tell Dounia about it to prevent him from contacting her. Raskolnikov suspects, however, that Svidrigaïlov may have a hidden agenda. As he leaves Svidrigaïlov mentions that Marfa Petrovna left Dounia 3,000 rubles in her will.

Analysis

Svidrigaïlov seems surprisingly candid and articulate but memorably creepy. He himself admits, "I certainly am idle and depraved." But his honesty does not dilute the unsavory description of his marriage or his comments about how women enjoy being beaten. He is also unapologetic about his pursuit of Dounia, although he is talking to her brother.

Svidrigaïlov claims that he and Raskolnikov are "birds of a feather," and they are surprisingly similar. Both men are intelligent, self-absorbed, hesitant to take true responsibility for their actions, and mentally on edge. Raskolnikov has definitely committed a terrible crime. Svidrigaïlov may have done the same, although he denies it, and asks a question about himself that applies equally to Raskolnikov: "Am I a monster, or am I myself a victim?"

Svidrigaïlov actively believes in a life after death, including ghosts. He describes the afterlife as a small, dirty room with spiders in the corners, which sounds startlingly similar to Raskolnikov's garret. This negative view of his fate suggests that Svidrigaïlov's conscience, like Raskolnikov's, is bothering him. But it also suggests a more realistic worldview on Svidrigaïlov's part than Raskolnikov's.

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