“Later on, when he recalled this time and all that happened to him during these days, minute by minute, point by point, feature by feature, he was always struck to superstition by one circumstance which, though in fact not very unusual, afterwards constantly seemed to him as if it were a sort of predetermination of his fate.”

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


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4 Responses to “Later on, when he recalled this time and all that happened to him during these days, minute by minute, point by point, feature by feature, he was always struck to superstition by one circumstance which, though in fact not very unusual, afterwards constantly seemed to him as if it were a sort of predetermination of his fate.”

  1. Charie says:

    (5) “Dooming” the money to the monastery was a humorous part. Apparently monks in those days weren’t interested in using donated funds to further goodwill or benefit society. In that same passage, he mentions that it’s “simple arithmetic,” a reminder of when Raskolnokov said “suppose, suppose all that’s been decided in this past month is clear as day, true as arithmetic.”

    If I was going to write a college paper, there are some words, such as “arithmetic” which are popping out at me.
    Another one is “vice,” and how no “virtue” has been clearly stated. The closest is that “Poverty is no vice.” The vices listed so far are: “drunkeness is also no virtue,” “destitution is a vice,” and mom says the fiance “said much more as well, because he seems to be somewhat vain and likes very much to be listened to, but that is almost not a vice.” (Almost not a vice–ha ha!!) I now have my eyes open to see if I can catch any mention of virtue in this tale.
    Finally (for now), the “disease.” Raskolnokov has said that “reason & failure of will take hold of a man like a disease, develop gradually, and reach their height shortly before the crime is committed: they continue unabated during the moment of the crime itself, and for some time after it, depending on the individual; then they pass away in the same way as a disease passes.” How is Raskolnokov’s “disease” progressing? On the first page he had “been for some time to had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypocrondria” and by Chapt. 5 is wondering “am I coming down with a fever?” So it’s moved from something imaginary to something real. He’s “still feverish” in Chapt. 6 and Natasya comments “maybe he really is sick.” Will we see more symptoms as he progresses, and will they finally “pass away in the same way” as he observed in others?

  2. Doak says:

    I’m well behind on commentary, now, but here goes:

    1) The Dream — I am still not certain what to make of the dream. It inspires Raskolnokov to think about the horrible act he is planning, and he appears to equate the gray mare with the old moneylender. However, I am not so sure that the author intended his reader to draw the same parallel. I’m still thinking about this, I see a broader purpose to the dream as a metaphor. Perhaps it is Raskolnokov’s inner conflict put into a play, but it seems more Dostoevsky’s commentary on the society he sees falling apart. Certainly, the gray mare had value, probably more value at an earlier time, but value nonetheless. Some man now tortures the mare into attempting an impossible task, to gallop with a load it could barely even pull at all. The man is drunk (drunk with vodka, with power, with whatever). Many of the others hop on board, all either oblivious to the mare’s plight or enjoying it with sadistic pleasure. Some on the side protest, but no one does anything (well, almost no one). Raskolnokov’s father tries to ignore the whole matter and tells Raskolnokov to do the same.

    The mare is beaten to death by a mob, but mostly by the blows of one man. Much of the crowd cheers on the man . . . until the killing blow, after which it appears the crowd’s sentiments change. Once the mare is dead, the crowd seems to feel more the horror of the moment and scorn for the man. The man asserts his authority to kill the mare throughout the episode.

    Only one person tries to do anything about the killing, the young Raskolnokov. However, his effort is entirely futile. No one else comes to aid the mare. In the end, Raskolnokov is carried away by his father who continues in denial, basically telling his son that it all is just some drunks having a good time, basically telling his son that is something that happens and that will happen, so just accept it and move on.

    Is Dostoevsky commenting on what he has seen happen to his Russia? A group of drunks (again, drunk with what?) beat to death something that was strong, asserting their authority to do so while no one dares get in the way? I’m still trying to work this out, perhaps making too much of it.

    2) I downright love the language. It is so engaging and vibrant. This is not at all what I expected, and “propel” is the perfect word.

    3) Actually, I see the narrator throughout. Dostoevsky constantly peppers the novel with phrases, or even just words, that evoke a sense of familiarity with the characters, settings, and situations. His subtlety is brilliant.

    5) The discussion between the student and the officer was one of the most intense parts of the story at that point. It was like the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. However, at the end of the discussion, the student dismisses the idea of the murder and Raskolnokov starts planning it. At that moment, Raskolnokov no longer is a hero. Whether it is because he’s given into the pressure of the horrible world around him or he’s just so inclined, he’s becoming a villain. To put it in terms of certain pop culture, he’s chosen the dark side.

    • Doak:

      Definitely a valid way of interpreting the dream (and as a dream, it is open to a wide-range of interpretations). And I definitely see and agree with your point about the young Raskolnikov’s not being able to stop the beating — linked perhaps, to the adult Raskolnikov’s swerving back and forth between a desire to help others (the money for the Marmeladov family, the kopeks for the policeman to help the young drunken woman) and his opposing belief in the futility of those actions.

      Another look at the dream (I suspect we’ll be coming back to this dream in a different form later in the book) from Joseph Frank:

      “Dostoevsky’s portrayal of the agonies of a conscience wrestling with itself, as Raskolnikov struggles to suppress his moral scruples and steel himself for murder, has no equal t his side of Macbeth. His horrified recoil after the trial visit to the pawnbroker’s flat, so as to spy out the ground in advance, is only the first of several reactions that increase in severity: ‘Oh God! how loathsome it all is…And how could such an atrocious thing come into my head?’ The unforgettable dream sequence in Chapter 5, which evokes a childhood recollection of the savagely sadistic beating and killing of a ‘useless’ old mare by the drunken peasant Mikolka, epitomizes Raskolnikov’s lacerating conflict. On the one side, there is the little boy who ‘loved that church, the old-fashioned icons for the most part without frames, and the old priest with his trembling head.’ this little boy, who still exists in the depths of Raskolnikov’s psyche, furiously breaks away from his father’s grasp, puts his arms around the head of the dead horse to kiss her lips and wounded eyes, and finally flies ‘in a frenzy wit his little fists out at Mikolka.’ On the other, there is the grown Raskolnikov dreaming the dream, who now plans to behave exactly like Mikolka — and not in a druken rage, but according to a carefully thought out, ‘rational’ theory. The combat within Raskolnikov between these two aspects of himself is so rending that he wakes in a state of terror and self-loathing, believing (mistakenly) that he has at last conquered the obsessive temption to kill.”

      And of course, from Thursday’s reading, there was the scene of Raskolnikov in front of St. Isaac’s.

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