Crime and Punishment | Study Guide

Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Crime and Punishment | Part 6, Chapters 5–6 | Summary

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Summary

Part 6, Chapter 5

Raskolnikov follows Svidrigaïlov to the boardinghouse. Svidrigaïlov threatens to call the police and tell them what he knows, but Raskolnikov is not intimidated. He accuses Svidrigaïlov of eavesdropping on his confession to Sonia. Svidrigaïlov taunts Raskolnikov about his hypocrisy: he whines about immorality ("the duties of citizen and man") while hiding his own crime. He jokingly suggests that Raskolnikov had better shoot himself.

Raskolnikov is annoyed but thinks perhaps he is wrong about Svidrigaïlov this time. Svidrigaïlov appears to leave in a carriage. As soon as Raskolnikov's back is turned, however, Svidrigaïlov follows him on foot. Raskolnikov passes Dounia on the street without noticing her. Dounia sees him but is too startled to say anything. Instead, she spots Svidrigaïlov, who signals to her. He convinces her to return to his room to talk to Sonia, who is not actually there.

At the boardinghouse Svidrigaïlov tells Dounia about her brother's crime and about Raskolnikov's theory that "a single misdeed is permissible if the principal aim is right." He speculates that her brother became carried away by the idea that "a great many men of genius have not hesitated at wrongdoing, but have overstepped the law without thinking about it." Svidrigaïlov recognizes that Raskolnikov's pride is wounded because he has failed to do the same. Dounia remembers Raskolnikov's article but refuses to believe that he committed the murders.

When Dounia tries to leave, she finds that Svidrigaïlov has locked her in and made sure no one in the building can hear her. In a frenzy Svidrigaïlov declares his love but tries to blackmail Dounia into sleeping with him. First he promises to save her brother, then threatens to expose him if she doesn't do what Svidrigaïlov wants. Finally, he threatens to rape her.

Dounia pulls out a revolver. She accuses Svidrigaïlov of poisoning his wife. He dares her to shoot him. She fires, grazing his scalp. He dares her to shoot again, but when she does the gun misfires. She realizes that "he would sooner die than let her go" and tosses the gun aside. He embraces her, asking her whether she loves him now or could ever love him, and Dounia firmly says no. He sadly lets her go, keeping the revolver.

Part 6, Chapter 6

Svidrigaïlov takes all his money from his room. He visits Sonia and gives her 3,000 rubles, telling her he is going to America. She protests, but he insists she accept the money and use it to follow Raskolnikov to Siberia. Sonia is shocked that he knows about Raskolnikov's crime; Svidrigaïlov assures her he will tell no one. He also gives his young fiancée a large sum of money. He gets a small, low room under the stairs in a hotel—the only one left. He is unable to eat and begins to feel feverish. He wonders if Dounia could have made him a better man after all.

That night he has fever dreams: first a mouse runs all over him. Then he sees the girl he molested and drove to suicide in her coffin, within a beautiful cottage covered inside and out with flowers. The dream implies that he did indeed commit the crime. He gets up and finds a five-year-old girl, cold and crying, in the hallway. He believes she is neglected or may have been treated cruelly. He takes her to his room and puts her to bed to sleep, but he is horrified when her expression becomes lewd. He wakes up to discover it has only been a dream.

Svidrigaïlov leaves the hotel with the revolver in his pocket and wanders, looking for a witness. He approaches a man, says he is going to America, and shoots himself in the head.

Analysis

Chapter 5 sharply contrasts Dounia's choice not to kill with Raskolnikov's earlier choice to commit murder. Does she spare Svidrigaïlov, or does she not want to give him the satisfaction? It is hard to say. But Dounia appears capable of killing, and she might have killed Svidrigaïlov if her gun had not misfired. In the end she considers Svidrigaïlov's state of mind and throws down the gun. She is capable of deciding whether to kill or not and of considering her potential victim's point of view.

Are there limits to compassion, and, if so, what are they? Throughout the novel characters such as Raskolnikov, Marmeladov, Katerina Ivanovna, and others exhibit morally objectionable emotions, beliefs, and behaviors. At the same time, they also show themselves capable of kindness and other virtues. The novel often challenges readers to consider how much compassion to show these characters. In these chapters the reader is challenged by Svidrigaïlov.

Chapter 5 confirms what Raskolnikov had feared about Svidrigaïlov. He is indeed a loathsome cad, a blackmailer, and a rapist. By the end of the chapter, however, Svidrigaïlov falls into despair when Dounia insists she can never love him. There is no question that Svidrigaïlov treats women criminally. Who would think such a man capable of having his heart broken? His suicidal reaction in Chapter 6 is as much a testament to Dounia's purity and goodness as it is to Dostoevsky's complex moral characterization.

Before his suicide Svidrigaïlov breaks down in some of the same ways Raskolnikov has. He loses his appetite and develops a fever. His mind racing, he has vivid fever dreams that he has trouble distinguishing from reality. The dream of the mouse running over him is reminiscent of his vision of the afterlife as a room crawling with spiders. His second dream acknowledges his guilt in the case of the young girl he drove to suicide. Svidrigaïlov's last dream of the five-year-old girl reflects his own depravity and mocks his attempt at compassion, as his influence corrupts her innocence before his eyes.

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