Part One, Chapters 5-6
by Dennis Abrams
Raskolnikov decides not to visit Razumikhin immediately, but “…not now…I will go to him the next day, after that, once that is already finished and everything has taken a new course…” The freshness of the Islands. A glass of vodka, a piece of pie, “He started for home, but having reached Petrovsky Island, he stopped in complete exhaustion, left the road, went into the bushes, collapsed on the grass, and in a moment was asleep.” “In a morbid condition, dreams are often distinguished by their remarkably graphic, vivid, and extremely lifelike quality…” “Raskolnikov had a terrible dream…”childhood, seven years old, walking with his father to the cemetery to visit the grave of his younger brother…”But now, strangely, to such a big cart, a small, skinny, grayish peasant nag had been harnessed…” Drunks from the tavern, Mikolka “I’ll take everybody for a ride! Get in!” The horse’s inability to pull the cart. First whips. Then a “long and stout shaft.” “It’s my goods!” The crowbar, “and he swings it with all his might at the poor horse. The blow lands, the wretched mare staggers, sinks down, tries to pull, but another full swing of the crowbar lands on her back, and she falls to the ground as if all four legs had been cut from under her.” The anguish of “the poor boy…With a shout he tears through the crowd to the gray horse, throws his arms around her dead, bleeding muzzle, and kisses it, kisses her eyes and mouth…’Papa! What did they…kill…the poor hose for!’ he sobs…’They’re drunk, they’re playing pranks, it’s none of our business, come along!'” Raskolnikov’s reaction: “He awoke panting, all in a sweat, his hair damp with sweat, and started up in terror. ‘Thank God it was only a dream…’ His whole body was as if broken, his soul was dark and troubled…’God!’ he exclaimed, ‘but can it be, can it be that I will really take an axe and hit her on the head and smash her skull…slip in the sticky, warm blood, break the lock, steal, and tremble, and hide, all covered with blood…with the axe…Lord can it be?'” “No, I couldn’t endure it…” Predetermination. Walking through the Haymarket to return home, Raskolnikov sees the pawnbroker’s poor put upon sister Lizaveta Ivanovna, and learns that she will be away from home the next at 7:00, “He walked like a man condemned to death. He was not reasoning about anything, and was totally unable to reason; but he suddenly felt with his whole being that he no longer had any freedom either of mind or of will, and that everything had been suddenly and finally decided.” Flashback to the previous winter, when Raskolnikov first learns about the pawnbroker, pawning a gold ring given to by his sister, immediately followed by tea at a tavern where he learned more about the pawnbroker and her sister from an overheard conversation between a student and a young officer. The wickedness of the pawnbroker. The subservience of her younger half-sister Lizaveta, her constant pregnancy, “She’s so quiet, meek, uncomplaining, agreeable — she agrees to everything.” The student argues that there would be justice in murdering the pawnbroker and using her wealth for good (although he confesses he couldn’t do it himself.) Raskolnikov oversleeps; then prepares, putting together a loop he had constructed to wear under his coat to hold an axe. His conclusion that almost crimes are solved because the perpetrator at the very moment of committing the crime, loses his will and reason, “just at the moment when reason and prudence are most necessary. When he can’t steal an from the kitchen because Nastasya was in the kitchen, steals one from the unoccupied gardener’s shack. He remembers his hat. Climbing the stairs. Painters on the second floor. The apartment under the pawnbroker’s is empty. Gasping for breath. “Shouldn’t I go away?” “But his heart would not stop. On the contrary, as though on purpose, it pounded harder, harder, harder…He could not stand it, slowly reached for the bell, and rang. In half a minute he rang louder…he suddenly discerned something like the cautious sound of a hand on the door-latch and something like the rustle of a dress against the door itself. Someone was standing silently just at the latch, hiding inside and listening, in the same way he was outside, and also, it seemed, with an ear to the door…He purposely stirred and muttered something aloud, so as not to make it seem jhe was hiding; then he rang for the third time, but quietly, seriously, and without any impatience. Recalling it later, vividly, distinctly — for the moment was etched in him forever — he could not understand where he got so much cunning, especially since his reason seemed cloudy at moments, and as for his body, he almost did not feel it on him…A second later came the sound of the latch being lifted.”
And how exciting was that?
A couple of observations:
1. The dream. Horrific. Yet utterly believable. And by telling it in the present tense, so much more immediate.
2. I still find myself struck by the sheer propulsiveness of Dostoevsky’s prose. It’s rhythms don’t so much carry you along as push you forward.
3. I was also struck by this: While so far at least the novel has been told in a series of voices (Raskolnokov’s his mother’s, Marmeladov’s, the student in the tavern) in at least a couple of occasion, the narrator jumps into the narrative: “We omit the whole process by means of which he arrived at this latter decision…We will only add that the factual, purely material difficulties of the affair generally played a most secondary role in his mind.”
4. Fate. “But why, he always asked, why had such an important, decisive, and at the same time highly accidental encounter in the Haymarket (where he did not even h ave any reason to go) come just then, at such an hour and such a moment in his life, to meet him precisely in such a state of mind and precisely in such circumstances as alone would enable it, this encounter, to produce the most decisive and final effect on his entire fat? As if it had been waiting him there on purpose!”
5. And finally, the student’s argument:
“Listen now. On the other hand, you have fresh, young forces that are being wasted for lack of support, and that by the thousands, and that everywhere! A hundred, a thousand good deads and undertakings that could be arranged and set going by the money that old woman has doomed to the monastary! Hundreds, maybe thousands of lives put right; dozens of families saved from destitution, from decay, from ruin, from depravity, from the venereal hospitals — all on her money. Kill her and take her money, so that afterwards wish its help you can devote yourself to the service of all mankind and the common cause: what do you think, wouldn’t thousands of good deeds make up for one tiny little crime? For one life, thousands of lives saved from decay and corruption. One death for hundreds of lives — it’s simple arithmetic! And what does the life of this stupid, consumptive, and wicked old crone mean in the general balance?”
Discuss amongst yourselves. I’d just like to comment, though, that the progression from this to the worst excesses of Lenin, Stalin, doesn’t seem to me to be that large a step.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Part One, Chapter Seven