Crime and Punishment
In Dostoyevskiys Crime and Punishment dreams play quite an important role. I would like to concentrate on four Rodyas dreams, or, to be more specific, nightmares. First one, described at the beginning of the novel, takes place at a cemetery. Little Rodya and his father are passing through a tavern and Rodya witnesses a gory murder of a horse by its drunken owner. Little Rodya tries to attack the murderer and wakes up from horror.
This very dream makes him wonder yet again if he is capable of murder. Or, to put it differently, if he will be able to set free all the humiliated and offended people. We can draw a direct analogy, with the horse being a generalization of humiliated people, and the drunken owner being an allegoric epitome of all the unfairness of the world. We might mention that this dream interacts with Rodyas current aspirations and philosophical search of self. The main issue that Rodya is trying to resolve at the moment is if he is a real human being or if hes nothing but a flea. And to have an empirical answer to that he has to commit something out of the line. For example, murder an old lady, which is one of the elements of the unfairness of the world.
We encounter the second dream in the second part of the novel after Rodion has already committed a murder. He sees his landlady being beaten. We might interpret it as his desire to exterminate another flea or as his suppressed fear he doesnt have enough money to pay his rent. It might as well be a mixture of both of them.
Third part of a novel brings us another nightmare: Rodion sees the old woman alive again and making fun of him. He tries to murder the old lady once again, but he is surrounded by people who are watching him silently. This time the dream is the allegory for the application of Rodyas principles. We see him try and pass the test he set out for himself, and we see him very close to failing this test.
The first three dreams characterize the stages of Rodyas moral illness, his mania. Seeing the world be a cruel place and having to leave his studies due to the lack of money, he starts to compare himself to the major figures of the epoch. Napoleon is his hero. Thus, to follow him, its important to conjure a new moral code, which would set people in two different categories. The asset that would put you in a category with a creature of higher order is getting away with a murder in Rodyas case.
The last dream that the main character has is considered to be the first step back to sanity. Rodion sees an apocalyptic picture of people murdering each other because they get inhabited by some spirits, ideas. This leads to massacre, although the people are incredibly discreet in their faith and moral sense. The final image after the nightmare is Rodya taking the New Testament in his hands.
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For Dostoyevsky, the New Testament and Rodyas commitment to it is a sign of his character entering a new curve. We should remember that the issue of faith was one of the most crucial ones for the prosaic writers of XIXt century in Russia. The morality of a man was measured in truly orthodox standards that constantly have to struggle with dire circumstances. Thus, we see a character of Sonya Marmeladova brought to her fictional life. She is a prostitute, but she manages to stay pure and innocent inside. According to one of the characters, Even as it is, she was quite right: she was suffering and that was her asset, so to speak, her capital which she had a perfect right to dispose of. She is the one sacrificing herself to other people and becoming a hero through that. She is an example of serving femininity, capable of love and commitment despite all the filth shes been through. For Dostoyevsky, Sonya is an ideal image of a person, an epitome of high moral principles. She appears to be following her fate. We know that she is born in a poor family and her foster mother comes up with a plan for her while father is away and barely ever interferes (which might very well be considered an allusion for the story of Cinderella). Despite all that, Sonya is a pillar of moral virtue, a paragon of all the things that are right. The collision of her and Rodions character is a quaintly fascinating mixture. Take, for example, the perception of fate: Sonya is a paragon of moral virtue, although she has violated one of the commandments. Nevertheless, she is the one to go through her ordeal due to vicious circumstances she happened to find herself in. To my point of view, we can even barely discuss her freedom of choice here, since she had nowhere to go from her family due to incredible poverty she was born in. On the other hand, we see Rodya, young rebel questioning the very nature of morality. His principles are vague, and they gain no further firmness when he hears Luzhin draw conclusions very similar to his own from absolutely different kind of philosophy. However, Rodya is inspired by a great man, a figure of the century, namely, by Napoleon. The war per se always results in broken generations of people, we observed it at the dawn of postmodernist culture. But here we see a troubled young man, at a dawn of his years, followed by his nightmares. He sets out a glorious purpose, he considers himself to be a new Messiah. He reckons that he is the one in position to bring the new order to the world. However, to be quite certain, he has to pass an ordeal. It is right here that we encounter his own struggle and disambiguation. Is it his destiny or is it only one of the choices he is about to make? Is his hero, Napoleon, a self-made man or he was born that way and always knew his destiny and vocation. Anyway, Rodya sets out to check if he is a person or nothing but a flea. He commits a planned murder, his second victim happens to be an innocent woman, which also arises a question: was it her destiny? Was it simply a coincidence? Was it part of Raskolnikovs test?
It is important to point out that Crime and Punishment is in many ways an autobiographical novel. Dostoevsky has been a prisoner at hard labour as penal servitude, like Raskolnikov was. In addition to that, Dostoevskys wife in her memoires mentions that Rodyas character was one of the most difficult to write. It is only my personal opinion, but I choose to believe that it was because of the likeness and sense of kinship that Dostoevsky felt with this particular character.
What is more, Dostoevsky is able to make the character of Rodya so graphic not only because of their common actual background. We can speak about Dostoevskys moral standing and see the autobiographical traits. Dostoyevsky had a death penalty replaced by labour penalty, and those years have contributed greatly to his establishment as a writer. In Rodyas case, surprising as it may sound, the murder he commits is a first step to his moral recovery. He has to overcome essential obstacles on his way to self. He has to re-consider the traditional Christian values and re-open them for himself with the help of Sonya Marmeladova.
Every person goes through a certain stage in their life. Dostoevsky has chosen to show us a troubled mind in a troubled state at a troubling time, both for young mans life and for the life of his country.
It is interesting to point out, that, despite Napoleon was clearly a potential enemy to Russia even before he actually attacked, but the society was divided into two groups. One, which included mostly young people, were quite amazed by what Napoleon was doing and by the wide scope of his actions. The pro-napoleonic moods were incredibly popular among the educated youth. It is possible to assume that it was due to the fact that for young people it meant an establishment of new order, the dawn of new world where everything is possible. Second group, obviously, was slightly sarcastic and expected the attack. Surprisingly, this group was by far less numerous. However, even though foreign affairs provided such a huge impact on the hearts and minds of the educated layer of society, we should remember about the internal issues that bugged Russia and its regime at that time. And firstly and foremostly we should recollect why Dostoevsky was imprisoned in the first place. He was a participant of a secret society, the aim of which was, basically, to abolish slavery. In the modern terms, it is possible to call him human rights activist. However, heroic attempts of these people to bring freedom were not crowned with success. It is surprising, however, to encounter instances of what we can call social racism in the work of a person so keenly defending the rights of humans.
It is easy to notice that Rodions views are in many ways similar to those of Nietzsche. However, to my personal opinion, it is still a puzzle to which extent does Dostoevsky critiques them, and to which he agrees. Rodya is clearly more of an example of an anti-hero. Despite his grim and disagreeable image, when juxtaposed with other characters of a novel, we cannot help but sympathize with him. He is a troubled, obsessed man in every sense, which can be underpinned by the following quote: [Raskolnikov] was crushed by poverty, but the anxieties of his position had of late ceased to weigh upon him. However, he is a reflection of his age and, as it seems to me, the author asks us, readers, to try and look at him the way Sonya Marmeladova does. Namely, we should try and understand his stance and motives without judging him to promptly.
To summarise, Rodya is weird mixture of a reflection of his poque with a drop or two of Dostoyevskys own destiny. Crucial changes in the society and the unravelling of the events in the life of a young man has become a masterpiece in the treasure chest of classic literature. It can hardly be called a pleasant read. However, the skill of getting oriented in multiple layers of moral didactics, autobiographic patches, history of a country, and the plot and the storyline is an attribute of a model reader.