“‘Strength, what’s needed is strength; without strength you get nowhere; and strength is acquired by strength — that’s something they don’t know,’ he added proudly and self-confidently, and he left the bridge barely able to move his legs.”

Part Two, Chapter Seven
by Dennis Abrams

The crowd, the coachman, the body on the street — Marmeladov. Raskolnikov pays to have him carried home. Katerina Ivanovna and the children at home. the smell of tobacco from the other rooms, Katerina’s cough. Katerina’s pride in her past, “‘You wouldn’t believe, you can’t even imagine, Polenka,’ she was saying, pacing the room, ‘how great was the gaiety and splendor of our life in papa’s house, and how this drunkard has ruined me and will ruin you all!'” Marmeladov is carried in and laid upon the sofa. Raskolnikov’s frantic concern; sending for a doctor. Katerina’s need for cleanliness — faced with no changes in clothes, she stays up all night washing her children’s and husband’s linen. Sending for Sonya. The other tenants crowd in to watch — Katerina’s anger sends them away. The landlady. Marmeladov opens his eyes — his wife’s despair. His request for a priest. The doctor arrives, says there’s no hope. Raskolnikov urges him to try letting some blood. Polenka arrives with Sonya. Sonya’s clothing, “…her gaudy silk dress with its long and absurd train, brought at fourth hand and so unseemly here, and her boundless crinoline that blocked the entire doorway, and her light-colored shoes, and the little parasol, useless at night, which she still carried with her, and her absurd round straw hit with its flame-colored feather.” Katerina asks the priest what she’s supposed to do with the children. “God is merciful; hope for help from the Almighty,’ the priest began. ‘Ehh! Merciful, but not to us!’ ‘That is sinful, madam, sinful,’ the priest observed, shaking his head. ‘And this is not sinful?’ cried Katerina Ivanovna, pointing to the dying man.’ Katerina admits that she had already forgiven Marmeladov everything. Her bloody handkerchief. Marmeladov, dying, asks for Sonya’s forgiveness, and dies in her arms. Raskolnikov gives Katerina Ivanovna all his money to pay for funeral expenses. Raskolnikov leaves, and on the staircase runs into the chief of police Nikodim Fomich, who observes, “But really, you’re all covered with blood,”…making out by the light of the lantern several fresh spots of blood on Raskolnikov’s waistcoat. ‘Soaked yes…I’ve got blood all over me!’ Raskolnikov said, with some peculiar look…” Polenka runs after Raskolnikov, proclaims her love for Sonya and her father, and says that she’ll pray for Raskolnikov “for the rest of my life.” and hugs him hard. Raskolnikov’s revelation, his prayer for the pawnbroker. Razumikhin’s housewarming party. Razumikhin walks Raskolnikov home, where he is surprised to find his mother and sister waiting for him.

It’s interesting for me to note that, despite having read this book probably three times, I was still completely surprised to find Marmeladov’s body underneath that carriage. And then there’s Raskolnikov’s generosity with the family, generosity that for once isn’t immediately withdrawn or regretted.

A quote that I suspect is fairly central, as Raskolnikov returns to the bridge where just the night before he had contemplated suicide and the unfortunate woman HAD attempted suicide, after finding a connection with Marmeladov’s daughter, Polenka:

“‘Enough,’ he said resolutely and solemnly. ‘Away with mirages, away with false fears, away with spectres!…There is life! Was I not alive just now? My life hadn’t died with the old crone! May the Lord remember her in His kingdom, and — enough my dear, it’s time to go! Now is the kingdom of reason and light and…and will and strength…and now we shall see! Now we shall cross sword!’ he added presumptuously, as if addressing some dark force and challenging it. ‘And I had already consented to live on a square foot of space!'”


I read an essay the other night, “Philosophical Pro and Contra in Part One of Crime and Punishment by Robert Louis Jackson, from the collection Twentieth Century Interpretations of Crime and Punishment and found that it discussed many of the issues we ourselves have been discussing, so…over the next few posts, I thought I’d share it with you.

“I suffered these deeds more than I acted them.” Oedipus

“The burden of Part One is the dialectic of consciousness in Raskolnikov. This dialectic propels him to crime and, in so doing, uncovers for the reader the ‘motives’ leading him to crime: motives deeply rooted in his character and in his efforts to come to terms with the necessities of his existence. Leo Tolstoy grasped the essence of the matter when he wrote that Raskolnikov lived his ‘true life’ when he was

‘lying on the sofa in his room, deliberating not at all about the old woman, nor even as to whether it is or is not permissible at the will of one man to wipe from the face of the earth another, unnecessary and hateful person, but whether he ought to live in St. Petersburg or not, whether he ought to accept money from his mother or not, and on other questions not at all relating to the old woman. And then at that time — in that region — quite independent of animal activities — the question of whether he would or not kill the old woman was decided.’ (“Why Men Stupefy Themselves,” 1890)

But if the fundamental matters or issues over which Raskolnikov deliberates are very immediate and practical ones, his responses to these matters have broad implications that have direct bearing on the crime. Here we may rightly speak of a moral-philosophical pro and contra.

Part One begins with a ‘test’ visit (proba) to the old pawnbroker and ends with a visit-for-real in which Raskolnikov murders the old lady and, incidentally, her sister Lizaveta. The murder, itself is also, in a deeper sense, a ‘test’ or experiment to determine whether he has the ‘right’ to transgress. Raskolnikov starts out in a state of indecision or irresolution (I, 1) and ends with a decisive action — murder (I, 7): an apparent resolution of his initial indecision. But does the murder really constitute a resolution of Raskolnikov’s dialectic? Does he really ‘decide’ to murder the pawnbroker? Or does not ‘chance,’ rather, serve to mask his failure to decide with his whole being? Is he master or slave here? The final line of Part One suggests the answer: ‘Fragments and shreds of thoughts swarmed in his head; but he could not get hold of a single one, he could not dwell on a single one, in spite of all his trying.’ (I, 7) Raskolnikov’s dialectic of consciousness continues to be dramatized in his thoughts, actions and relationships after the murder (Parts II-VI). It is only in the epilogue (chap. 2) that this dialectic is dissolved — not resolved — on a new, developing plane of consciousness.

The movement from test to test, from rehearsal to experimental crime, from theory to practice, is marked by a constant struggle and debate on all levels of Raskolnikov’s consciousness. Each episode — the meeting with Marmeladov and his family (chap. 2), Raskolnikov’s reading of his mother’s letter with its account of family affairs (chap. 3), his encounter with the violated girl and the policeman (chap. 4) and his dream of the beating of the mare (chap. 5) — is marked by a double movement: a motion of sympathy and a motion of disgust, of attraction and recoil; each episode attests to what one critic has called Raskolnikov’s ‘moral maximilism’, yet each attests to a deepening skepticism and despair on the part of Raskolnikov, a tragic tension toward crime in both a psychological and philosophical sense.

The immediate issues of this pro and contra are nothing more or less than injustice and human suffering and the question of how one shall respond to them. But the deeper evolving question — on which turns Raskolnikov’s ultimate response to injustice and suffering — is a judgment of man and his world: is he a morally viable creature or simply and irredeemably bad? Do man and the world make sense? Raskolnikov’s murder of the old pawnbroker is the final expression of the movement of his dialectic toward a tragic judgment of man and society. The ideological concomitant of his paralysis of moral will (the scenes following his chance encounter on the street with Lizaveta) is a rationalistic humanism that is unable to come to terms with evil in human existence; lacking larger spiritual dimensions, this ideology ends by postulating incoherence and chaos in man and his environment and, in turn, a universe in which man is a victim of ‘fate.’

The stark realism and pathos of Marmeladov’s person and family at first cools the hot and agitated Raskolnikov. The novel rises to its first epiphany in the tavern; out of the troubled posturing and grotesquerie of Marmeladov comes a mighty prose poem of love, compassion and forgiveness (echoing Luke 7, 36-50); it constitutes an antithesis to Raskolnikov’s proud and rebellious anger. Raskolnikov visits the Marmeladovs, responds warmly to them, and leaves some money behind. But the same scene, focusing on the hopelessness and tragedy of Raskolnikov’s environment, evokes finally incredulity and despair in him. If Marmeladov’s ‘confession,’ which opens chapter 2, accents the central redemptive notes in Crime and Punishment, the final lines of the chapter stress antithetical notes of despair and damnation. The sight of human degradation is so overwhelming as to evoke in Raskolnikov fundamental doubts about man and human nature. Stunned that people can live in this way, that indignity, vulgarity and discord can become an accepted part of one’s life, Raskolnikov explodes: ‘Man can get used to anything — the scoundrel!’ These strange ruminations follow: ‘But what if man really isn’t a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole human race; if he is not, that means that all the rest is prejudice, just imaginary fears, and there are no barries, and that is as it should be!’ These lines are crucial in posing the underlying moral and philosophical issues of Crime and Punishment

More tomorrow…

Tuesday’s Reading: Part 3, Chapter One


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One Response to “‘Strength, what’s needed is strength; without strength you get nowhere; and strength is acquired by strength — that’s something they don’t know,’ he added proudly and self-confidently, and he left the bridge barely able to move his legs.”

  1. artmama says:

    I’m not sure exactly where, but somewhere in here I got the chilling realization that this novel is designed to help us understand that we are all murderers. Maybe its the way that D shows us how the unbelievable happens and life continues, though it is forever bent by the unbelievable having been realized. Raskolnikov’s reflections on “that” threaten to throw him out of orbit, yet he slogs on. Any of us could do this, to some degree, or could we? Like I said…chilling.

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