In the novel Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, suffering is an integral part of every character’s role. Dostoevsky uses comic characters as instruments for competing ideological issues. A typical example is the loquacious bar room character Marmeladov, an alcoholic with an ironic abstract side to his personality. Through his behavior, Marmeladov draws the reader’s attention to questions about environmental and psychological influence and theology and specifically, the conflict between organized religion and personal spirituality.
His confession to Raskolnikov sets the stage for a complex pattern of cross references to these ideas and their impact on the main characters. At the center of these related questions is Marmeladov’s self-assured claim that he knows that redemptive suffering will lead to salvation, such as when he tells Raskolnikov that he knows with certainty that God has a special place reserved in heaven for repentant drinkers: then He will summon us… Come forth ye drunkards… and He will hold out His hands to us and we shall fall down before Him… (Dostoevsky 20).Order now
Connected to this theological side of Marmeladov, and the basis of a psychological subtext, is his enjoyment of self-induced suffering, such as the abuse of Katerina Ivanovna when he returns home after drinking. He says, This does not hurt me, but is a positive consolation. (Dostoevsky 23). Dostoevsky uses Marmeladov’s comic behavior to counterpoint the metaphysical guilt that Raskolnikov tries to suppress.
His justification appeals to Raskolnikov not only because it vindicates the behavior of neglected, poor people, but more importantly because it offers an unconventional view of moral masochism right at the very moment when Raskolnikov is contemplating ruining his life with the lie of murder in the name of humanitarianism, or a crime in the name of a higher good. However, it is Sonia, the holy fool who is forced to work as a prostitute, who will eventually bring this lie to the surface. In the meantime, Raskolnikov will be drawn into her family through the actions of her father and due to his need to suffer and then seek atonement.
The recurrence of the parallel of shame and redemptive suffering in Crime and Punishment is essential in understanding the role of suffering. Victimized and burdened people like Marmeladov lead to a kind of spiritual power through their eccentric personalities. A similar pattern of self-conscious shame and redemptive suffering is played out in several other situations, especially those involving Marmeladov s wife Katerina. She, too, like her husband, owns little except her complaints about an absurd world, and her symbolically bloody handkerchief. She blames her misfortune on the environment and social circumstances (Dostoevsky 14).
From the point-of-view of Dostoevsky’s Christian philosophy, she brings to light the Orthodox view of spiritual fallenness. The voice of Dostoevsky, the man, is only heard on the level of the novel’s subtext. Dostoevsky never lets his Christian beliefs overwhelm a dialogue between two characters or direct the flow of an argument. Dostoevsky lets these ideological differences exist side by side, in irreconcilable tension. Thus, the conflict between personal guilt and unfavorable social circumstance can only sharpen the sense of the incompatibility between deterministic psychology and faith.
This seems to be the reason Dostoevsky introduces the cases of suffering of Dounia and Sonia, giving up great aspects of their life for the greater good. As one struggles to keep her family together and surviving with few resources, the other must give up her name and respectability to become a prostitute and raise money to support her family. The similarity and significance are great in that they contrast directly to the reasoning and consequences of Raskolnikov s crime. Raskolnikov is so torn apart by conflicting thoughts and desires that he often seems to be two characters.
Indeed, Dostoevsky’s technique is to surround Raskolnikov with complementary or opposing characters that mirror his repressed inner self. One side of his personality is aggressive and detached, like Svidrigailov, while the other is caring and compassionate, like Sonia. In a schematic sense, Sonia is a double that represents his spiritual, ethereal side, and Svidrigailov a double that stands for his physical, agnostic side. Throughout the novel, Raskolnikov moves, alternately, from one to the other as he attempts to resolve the burden of a guilty conscience. After the crime, these two alter egos compete for Raskolnikov’s attentions.
However, because of his pride, he tries to hide from any open acknowledgment of either one. This mask of denial is the basis of Dostoevsky’s irony in scenes where Raskolnikov is clearly drawn to the spiritual side of Sonia or the criminal side of Svidrigailov. Raskolnikov especially finds it hard to admit that he is drawn to a self-denying victim like Sonia because it violates his idea of the extraordinary person. It is easier to identify with an aggressive victimizer like Svidrigailov because he embodies the ruthless behavior of a man who has overstepped the laws of society.
However, basically Raskolnikov is attracted to these opposing doubles, it is a conflict between innate feelings and ideology. Sonia represents Raskolnikov’s innate morality and the goodness of his heart, while Svidrigailov stands for the evil of abstract theories, and when Svidrigailov dies, the theoretical voice of Raskolnikov’s personality seems to fade out and the Sonya voice begins to speak with greater conviction, which becomes Raskolnikov s most important first step towards his confession.