This discusses the duality of the characters in “Crime and Punishment”
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To be human is to be full of contradictions. In the novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the relationship between a young man that commits a murder and his friends and family is explored. The characters that Dostoevsky creates are filled with beautiful contradictions that make them all the more human.
The main character, Raskolnikov, is Dostoevsky’s focus for his exploration of duality in character. “Raskol” in Russian means “schism” or “split.” This name gives an inside view to Raskolnikov. He is torn between a conscience that urges him to do good and a cruelly rational side that pushes him to do evil. His conscience urges him to be generous and benevolent with those that are less fortunate than he. At one point, Raskolnikov sees a young girl drunk on the street with a lecherous old man trailing behind her. Raskolnikov finds a nearby policeman and takes him to the scene. “I saw myself watching her and following her, but I prevented him, and he is just waiting for me to go away…Think how can we keep her out of his hands, and how are we to get her home?…Here, “said Raskolinikov, feeling in his pockets and finding twenty copecks, “here, call a cab and tell him to drive her to her address.” (43).
Then after he thinks about it and his other side has a chance to rationalize, he regrets his actions. “He [the policeman] has carried off my twenty copecks,” Raskolnikov murmurs angrily when he is left alone. “Well, let him take as much from that other fellow to allow him to have the girl and so will it end. And why did I want to interfere? Is it for me to help? Have I any right to help? Let them devour each other alive-what is it to me?” (45). There are other instances of this contradictory behavior throughout the novel. Raskolnikov gives money to the family of a friend after the friend dies and then as soon as he leaves, he berates himself for giving away his money. He valiantly defends Sonia to Svidrigailov then later ridicules her for her belief in God. Raskolnikov is constantly struggling with doubt, and questions every decision that he makes. This is done to make Raskolnikov more human so that the reader does not focus on his evil side.
Raskolnikov’s sister, Dounia, also has contradictions in her personality. She has an internal fight between the desire to help out her family and the desire to stay true to her morals. She is willing to sacrifice herself into a loveless marriage to keep her family from poverty, but is unwilling to give herself to Svidrigailov for money. Later when Svidrigailov threatens her, she begins with confidence. “He stood facing her, two paces away, waiting and gazing at her with wild determination, with feverishly passionate, stubborn, set eyes. Dounia saw that he would sooner die than let her go. And . . . now, of course she would kill him, at two paces!” (427). Then she suddenly flings away the revolver when her conscience has time to understand the situation. (428) This split in Dounia’s morality is done so that she can understand her brother’s reasons for doing things that are looked down upon by society.
The detective in charge of the investigation is Porfiry Petrovitch. He promotes the use of reason to find the criminal behind the murder. He uses logic to find that Raskolnikov has committed the murder. “You, Rodion Romanovitch! You are the murderer,” he adds, “almost in a whisper, in a voice of genuine conviction” (393). Yet he does not turn Raskolnikov in. Instead he tells Raskolnikov to turn himself in. He does this in order to show Raskolnikov the error of his ways. Dostoevsky is expressing his belief that punishment does not do any good until the criminal feels remorse.
The character Svidrigaiov also has many contradictions. He is mainly seen as a self-absorbed, debauched character. He is a criminal that is rescued from prison by his former wife. After being released, he cheats on his wife numerous times, becomes a child molester, and is suspected of murder. Even after having all of these bad traits he reveals his altruistic nature when he says, “She has taken the three children to an old lady of high rank, the patroness of some orphan asylums, whom I used to know years ago. I charmed the old lady by depositing a sum of money with her to provide for the three children of Katerina Ivanovna and subscribing to the institution as well.” (417) He does this with no expectation of reward. Dostoevsky is evoking pity for an otherwise evil character. He wants the reader to know that there is no truly evil person.
One of the most confusing and pitiful characters is Katerina Ivanovna. She is the daughter of a once wealthy military man, but has since become a destitute mother and wife. She constantly complains of her situation and yet does nothing to improve their financial life. Her constant nagging forces her stepdaughter into prostitution in order to provide income for the family. As soon as Sonia does this, Katerina kicks her out of the house because of the shame that it brings upon the family, but Katerina is still willing to take the money that this shameful profession brings. Even with all of these selfish actions, Katerina is selfless at times. She stands by and comforts the husband who is responsible for her family being so poor, as he lay dying. She gives her family more than she is physically capable of doing. “She preferred to wear herself out at night, working beyond her strength when the rest were asleep, so as to get the wet linen hung on a line and dry by the morning.” (157) Katerina is yet another example of an inconsistent personality for the purpose of making Raskolnikov’s inconsistency seem normal.
Perhaps Dostoevsky’s favorite character with dual characteristics is Sonia. Sonia becomes a prostitute to support her family, yet she is portrayed as one of the purest characters in the novel. Her soul is pure even though her body is not. In public, she is a shy, timid girl that stands in the corner demurely. Yet when Raskolnikov taunts her for her belief in God, she steadfastly clings to her faith. Raskolnikov is lead to exclaim, “”Sonia! Poor gentle things, with gentle eyes. . . . Dear women! Why don’t they weep? Why don’t they moan? They give up everything . . . their eyes are soft and gentle. . . . Sonia, Sonia! Gentle Sonia!” (240) Because she has two sides, she can understand and love Raskolnikov. Through her Raskolnikov is able to find the path to redemption.
Although the contradictions that these characters embody may seem impossible, they are a realistic view into every person. Dostoevsky knows this and uses it to explain, even define, his characters. Everyone is filled with dual motives.