In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the characters Raskolnikov, Luzhin, and Svidrigaïlov are all villains. This paper will determine, exactly what each one is guilty of, how they face their guilt, and the consequences for each man’s actions.
Writing Assignment 4
In spite of what the old cliché asserts, Crime and Punishment is a book that you can judge by its cover. For at the center of its intricate plot, tying everything together, is plenty of crime and plenty of punishment. To achieve those ends Fyodor Dostoevsky created several villainous characters, three men that break both moral and legal laws. Their names are: Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, and Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky has great skill as writer, so each one is unique and different as an actual human being. Over the course of this paper we will determine exactly what they are individually guilty of, how they face their guilt, and what the consequences of their offense is.
By nature, Luzhin is stingy, haughty, domineering and manipulative. Consequently, one of his misdeeds is how he treats his impoverished fiancé, Dunya, and mother-in-law (Raskolnikov’s sister and mother respectively). Luzhin attempts to keep them helpless and dependant upon his wealth, by giving them only meager sums and providing them shabby living quarters. This plan backfires when Raskolnikov exposes his true character. “Peter Petrovich appeared not in the least to have expected such an ending. He had had too much confidence in himself, in his power and in the helplessness of his victims” (Dostoevsky, 292). After his initial scheme is foiled, Luzhin then connives away to get back at Raskolnikov. His endeavor in this regard is where he commits his second crime. Luzhin tries, but fails, to frame one of Raskolnikov’s friends. On this occasion, his room-mate gives him away. “I saw you, I saw you! I saw how you put it [a one-hundred rouble note] surreptitiously into her pockets” (382). If this evil ploy had worked, Luzhin’s victim would have gone to jail.
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin’s guilt is two-fold and undeniable. The way he faces it, is paradoxically, by not facing it. First off, he blamed anyone but himself, “He blamed him, [Raskolnikov] and him alone, for everything” (293). Then, when caught red-handed, the devious miser still had the gall to deny his evil-doing. “Stuff and nonsense, you are talking rubbish, sir!” (383). Even when he does admit his mistake, it is not remorseful or to even confess culpability. “I’ve made a blunder!” is all Luzhin declares, as if he bungled a game of chess or something trivial like that (346). In his eyes, he can do no wrong, even though he has done wrong.
For every deed we do, whether good or ill, there is a consequence. Luzhin does pay for what he did. However, out of the three felons in Crime and Punishment he gets off the easiest. The punishment for manipulating his bride-to-be is that the planned marriage never occurs. This is a heavy blow for him, because despite his evil machinations, he truly wanted to get married. For venturing to frame someone of theft, he has to deal with the shame of being discovered. After all, he is revealed in front of many people. To a prideful man such as Luzhin it had to be a humbling experience. He is guilty of several crimes, tries to face that guilt incorrectly, and, like everyone else, cannot escape the consequences.
In one word, Svidrigailov is totally, and undoubtedly: worthless. What he is guilty of is mostly more general and ambiguous than the other two characters, but, there is at least one specific transgression he is certainly at fault for. Generally, he is a flagrant partaker of debauchery in all forms, drinking, gambling, promiscuity, and so forth. “Tell me, why should I put any restraint on myself?” he asks at one point (451). Ambiguously, there arise several rumors that involve him in the demise of his former wife and two other people. “That horrible man seems to have been the cause of her [his wife’s] death as well! They say he beat her dreadfully” (218), “Luzhin accused you of being the cause of a child’s death” (455), “There was talk of a servant of yours…you were supposed to be the cause of what happened to him” (455). None of these statements are verified, and Svidrigailov denies any involvement. The miscreant’s foremost, and most specific wrongdoing was his effort to seduce Dunya even while he was still married. In other words, sexual harassment was his primary offense.
Unlike Luzhin, Svidrigailov does not appear to be unrepenting when facing his guilt. In fact, it really seems to bother him. He tries to deal with it by being overly generous, giving money away almost haphazardly (482). Or, when his murky past is brought up, Svidrigailov tries to evade it and change the subject: “Do me the favor of leaving all that vulgar gossip alone” (455). He responds that way mainly to the above mentioned rumors connecting him to a death. Whether or not his reaction implies involvement is questionable, but, it is telling. Svidrigailov tries any method to soothe himself when guilt is aroused in his soul.
In this character’s case, the consequences of his actions are so severe; they lead to a violent, premature end. This event is the climax to a list of various other punishments. Guilt-wracked, he is initially haunted by the ghost of his wife (274, 275). (He claims to have “clear conscience” (270) about his wife’s death, but this seems declare otherwise). Once in St. Petersburg, Svidrigailov announces his love for Dunya, again, and is consequently rejected by her, again, only this time at gun-point (475). This frayed his already tattered constitution, since the hope that (now that his wife was dead) Dunya might return his love, was the only thing really keeping him alive. Soon after that he is tormented by several bad dreams (488-490), wakes up the next morning, and blows his brains out in front of a guard. “He lifted the revolver to his right temple. Svidrigailov pulled the trigger…” (491). It is difficult to say to what extent or just how many evil things Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov did. What is not a mystery is that he was troubled greatly, and suffered dearly because of it.
If sins could be measured by their vileness, murder would be at the very top, ranking as the worst of the worst. Every other crime is possible to recover from…after that one has been committed; there is no hope for the victim. Unfortunately, most unfortunately, murder is what Raskolnikov is guilty of. He kills his pawnbroker in cold blood, for no other reason than he “needed to experience something different” (402). Every other terrible thing he does throughout Crime and Punishment–lying, theft, being hateful to his friends and family–is a result of the murder. That pivotal moment is both his beginning and…his end. “There and then I murdered myself at one blow, for ever!” (402).
Raskolnikov is really the only one of the three who comes to understand the depravity of his situation. This leads him to face his guilt in the truly proper way. He confesses his crime, both to his friend Sonya, and then to the police. Before that though, he did try other methods to deal with his guilt. Like Svidrigailov, Raskolnikov tried to make penance through charity. “I’ve just been at a dead man’s house…I gave all my money to them [the dead man’s family]…” (185). Another way he tries to face his guilt is by blaming the devil. He acts as if he was compelled, against his will, by that lord of darkness. “The devil was pulling me along then” says Raskolnikov on one occasion (402). Torture mentally, Crime and Punishment’s main character tried many other (sometimes contradictory ways), of facing his guilt than these. But, let it be known, none of his shame was caused by remorse for the old lady, just remorse for himself: “I only killed a louse, a useless, vile, pernicious louse” (399).
In the grand scheme of things, the consequence of Raskolnikov’s crime was probably not austere enough. He deserved to die, and yet, did not. Nevertheless, he was punished heavily, afflicted both tangibly and intangibly. The tangible aspect was, of course, his sentence of eight years in a Siberian prison. Siberia is one of the coldest, bleakest, and unforgiving places on earth, so it is very fitting for a soul such as his. That side of the coin is obvious, what is not as obvious is the intangible side. “Dostoevsky seems to suggest that actual punishment is much less terrible than the stress and anxiety of trying to avoid punishment” (Sparknotes.com). Judging from Raskolnikov’s state of mind throughout the entire book, Dostoevsky seems to have it right. There is not one moment’s rest for the depraved, murderous man. “Oh God, how stupid it all is!…How much lying and cringing I did today! It’s all wrong! It’s all wrong…” (104). He may have been able to get away with murder for a time, but Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov’s anguish began long before his jail-term.
We knew that before that the trio selected from Crime and Punishment were bad men, but now, we know exactly why. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin’s crimes were manipulation and attempting to frame someone. He tried to face his guilt by blaming Raskolnikov, denying his guilt, and trivializing. The consequences of his deeds were his marriage never coming about and personal shame. Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov’s crimes were overall debauchery, possibly foul play, and specifically sexual harassment. He tried to face his guilt by being overly generous and evading subjects that were painful to him. The consequences of his deeds were feeling haunted, rejection by the woman he loved, nightmares and finally suicide. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov’s crime was murder, and anything else originated from that. He faced his guilt by eventually confessing, but tried charity, blaming the devil and other ideas that came from his sick mind. The consequences of his deeds were incarceration in a Siberian jail, and the debilitating stress of hiding a murder. Dostoevsky’s characters are fictional, and therefore, not real. What’s frightening though…is that somewhere on there in the world…are people just like them.
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Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Billy Greer Copyright 2010