Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Part 4, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Raskolnikov visits Sonia. They discuss what will happen to Katerina Ivanovna and her children. Sonia defends her stepmother. She explains that Katerina Ivanovna has suffered so much that she is broken. She worries that her nine-year-old stepsister could be forced into prostitution but insists that God will protect her. Seeing her "insatiable compassion," Raskolnikov bows to Sonia, saying, "I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity." In passing, Sonia mentions that she was friends with Lizaveta, startling Raskolnikov.

Raskolnikov thinks Sonia is a "religious maniac," or holy fool—an insane outsider touched by God. Her faith puzzles him. The conflict between Sonia's profession and her religion seems intolerable. He sees only three options: she will commit suicide, go insane, or be corrupted by her profession. Sonia has considered suicide but rejected it because she feared what would happen to her family without her support.

Sonia reads the story of Lazarus to Raskolnikov from a Bible Lizaveta left behind. As she reads she is overcome with religious fervor. Raskolnikov confesses that he has rejected his family and that he needs Sonia—she is all he has left. He tells Sonia that, if he returns the next day, he will tell her who killed Lizaveta. Sonia wonders if Raskolnikov is insane. Without their knowledge Svidrigaïlov, who lives in the apartment next door, has eavesdropped on their entire conversation.

Analysis

This chapter builds suspense as Raskolnikov moves closer to confessing. After alienating everyone else, he trusts only Sonia, believing that she is the only one who can understand him. "All that infamy had obviously only touched her mechanically, not one drop of real depravity had penetrated to her heart." Sadly, Raskolnikov cannot say the same about himself.

To him Sonia is Christlike and represents all human suffering. Her compassion challenges him to step outside himself and consider the existence of others. Raskolnikov is capable of recognizing suffering, but that suffering may have a purpose escapes, and perhaps frightens, him. He may admire Sonia, yet he also criticizes her, raging that she has destroyed her life for nothing. His anger is likely a projection of his own fear that, through his crime, he has done the same.

Raskolnikov insists: "Break what must be broken, once for all, that's all, and take the suffering on oneself ... Freedom and power, and above all, power! Over all trembling creation and all the ant-heap! ... That's the goal, remember that!" He still clings to his notion that gaining power is the main goal in life. What he avoids facing is the suffering this idea creates in practice, especially in his own case.

As an impoverished prostitute, Sonia is one of society's most powerless members, but rather than adding to suffering, she lessens it. Her attraction to Raskolnikov is also based on compassion; she sees how he is suffering and wants to help him. A devout Christian, she represents traditional morality: the power of faith and love.

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