Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Part 6, Chapters 3–4 | Summary

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Summary

Part 6, Chapter 3

After Porfiry leaves Raskolnikov hurries to talk to Svidrigaïlov. Raskolnikov is avoiding Sonia because she reminds him of the need to confess. He feels drawn to Svidrigaïlov, instead, and wonders what he has in common with such a dangerous man. He also worries that Svidrigaïlov will report him to the police, but he worries even more that he will use his knowledge of the crime to hurt Dounia. If he discovers Svidrigaïlov's intentions are bad, he can only think of one solution: to kill him.

Suddenly he sees Svidrigaïlov in a tavern window. At first Svidrigaïlov seems to want to hide, but then he invites Raskolnikov to join him. Svidrigaïlov's face is handsome but almost too perfect, like a mask. Raskolnikov tells him he will kill him if he hurts Dounia. He confesses to cheating at cards and having a passion for women. Raskolnikov thinks it is a dangerous disease. Svidrigaïlov somewhat agrees but says he would shoot himself without women, then admits that he is afraid of death. Raskolnikov feels Svidrigaïlov is the "most worthless scoundrel on the face of the earth" and starts to leave, but Svidrigaïlov offers to tell how Dounia tried to save him from himself.

Part 6, Chapter 4

Raskolnikov confronts Svidrigaïlov about rumors that he caused the death of a child. Svidrigaïlov dismisses them as "vulgar tales." Instead, he describes his marriage to Marfa Petrovna. He told her he could not be faithful. She allowed him to sleep with servants but forbade him from having a long-term affair or falling in love, especially with a woman above that rank. Throughout their conversation Svidrigaïlov proudly details his extensive, manipulative, and sordid womanizing.

Svidrigaïlov was deeply attracted to Dounia. He kept his distance until she confronted him about raping a maid. Svidrigaïlov then used this to seduce Dounia, making her believe she could save him from his depraved ways, but Dounia saw he had an ulterior motive and rejected him. Svidrigaïlov became desperate, offering her all his money and saying he would run away with her. He claims he was so smitten he would have killed his wife if Dounia had asked. His actions led to the events Raskolnikov's mother described in her letter to him in Part 1, Chapter 3.

Raskolnikov asks Svidrigaïlov if he is still pursuing Dounia. He denies it, but Raskolnikov remains suspicious. As proof Svidrigaïlov tells of his recent engagement to a 15-year-old girl. Raskolnikov is disgusted by the news. He asks why Svidrigaïlov helped Katerina Ivanovna's children. To prove that his generosity is genuine, Svidrigaïlov claims he also helps other young people. He is paying for a 13-year-old girl's education, for instance, but Raskolnikov clearly feels he is also planning to take advantage of her. He is certain Svidrigaïlov has designs on Dounia. Svidrigaïlov tells Raskolnikov he "won't get away" from him. They part, but, increasingly suspicious, Raskolnikov follows him.

Analysis

Svidrigaïlov's physical features echo his deceptive character. His face is handsome but like a mask—too young looking, too perfect. Who is really behind this mask? Raskolnikov labels Svidrigaïlov a "vile, depraved" man. Based on Svidrigaïlov's comments, this description seems accurate.

Svidrigaïlov appears amused by his own exploits, and his "confessions" are often outrageous. Despite his wife's very recent death, Svidrigaïlov is already engaged to a teenaged girl and carousing as usual. He shamelessly describes his seduction of Dounia to her own brother, then proudly details his conquests, elaborating on his sordid strategies for seducing women. His stories reveal him as a sexual predator who enjoys manipulating them into betraying their morals.

And he is capable of much worse: Dounia intercedes because he has raped a housemaid. He is also rumored to have raped a 14-year-old deaf and mute girl who then committed suicide and to have killed his wife. Svidrigaïlov's evasion when Raskolnikov confronts him suggests there is truth to these rumors.

Despite all this Svidrigaïlov is not wholly evil, which makes him oddly compelling. Like many of Dostoevsky's characters, he is a paradox. He has kept his word to help Sonia and her family, paying for funeral rites and making arrangements to put the children in reputable orphanages. And his conscience continues to bother him, causing a serious fear of death. How can such a terrible man also do good?

Raskolnikov is likely sitting across the table from another criminal. Svidrigaïlov said at an earlier meeting that he thought they were "birds of a feather." Raskolnikov may loathe Svidrigaïlov as "vile," but these chapters show how much they are alike. Despite differences in background and wealth, both are capable of terrible crimes, and both are troubled in some way by their conscience. Both are intelligent, articulate, and capable of manipulating other people's points of view. Both can also be surprisingly generous to others in need. And both are paradoxical characters whose behavior is often contradictory.

On the other hand, Raskolnikov is scarcely as experienced as Svidrigaïlov as a criminal. He has only committed one crime, and, if Svidrigaïlov blackmails him, he will become another of Svidrigaïlov's victims. Raskolnikov is completely incapable of facing his own crimes the way Svidrigaïlov can.

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