Part Six, Chapters Seven and Eight
by Dennis Abrams
Raskolnikov visits his mother to say goodbye. “His clothes were terrible; everything was dirty, torn, tattered, after a whole night out in the rain. his face was almost disfigured by weariness, bad weather, physical exhaustion, and the nearly twenty-four-hour struggle with himself. He had spent the whole night alone, God knows where. But at least he had made up his mind.” Pulcheria Alexandrovna greets her son, rushing up and down like a lunatic, and tell him she read his article. “Well, I’m reading it, my dear, and of course there are many things I don’t understand; however, that’s as it must be: how could I?” Raskolnikov’s pride at seeing his article in print for the first time, but “This lasted only a moment. Having read a few lines, he frowned and a terrible anguish wrung his heart. The whole of his soul’s struggle over the past months came back to him all at once.” Mother is relieved to learn that her son isn’t mad, he’s intelligent. Raskolnikov’s father dreamed of being a writer. Dunya’s not home — her secrets. “Mama, whatever happens, whatever you hear about me, whatever they tell you about me, will you still love me as you do now?” Pulcheria Alexandrovna’s understanding of her son’s grief, “I went around all morning as if I were facing execution, waiting for something, anticipating — and here it is!” “I’m going away.” Pulcheria Alexandrovna offers to go with Raskolnikov, along with Dunya and Sonya, who she promises to treat like a daughter, but he refuses the offer. “‘No, but kneel and pray to God for me. Maybe your prayer will be heard…’ Yes, he was goad, he was very glad that no one was there, that he and his mother were alone. It was as if his heart softened all at once, to make up for all that terrible time. He fell down before her, he kissed her feet, and they both wept, embracing each other…She had long understood that something terrible was happening with her son, and now some awful moment had come round for him.” Raskolnikov regrets his decision t come, and promises to return. Back to his apartment, imagining Porfiry waiting for him, finding his sister Dunechka. She knows all. “‘I’m a vile man, Dunya.’ ‘A vile man, yet you’re ready to go and suffer! You are going, aren’t you?’ ‘I am. Right now. Yes, it was to avoid this shame that I wanted to drown myself, Dunya, but I thought, as I was already standing over the water, that if I’ve considered myself a strong man all along, then let me knot be afraid of shame now…Is that pride, Dunya?'” Was he simply afraid of the water? Will his suffering wash away his crime? “Crime? What crime?…I killed a vile, pernicious louse, a little old money-lending crone who was of no use to anyone, to kill whom is worth forty sins forgiven, who sucked the life-sap from the poor — is that a crime…Only now do I see clearly all the absurdity of my faintheartedness, now that I’ve already decided to go to this needless shame. I decided on it simply from my own vileness and giftlessness, and perhaps also for my own advantage…” Everybody sheds blood. “Don’t weep over me: I’ll try to be both courageous and honest all my life, even though I am a murderer. Perhaps you’ll hear my name someday. I won’t disgrace you, you’ll see. I’ll still prove…” Raskolnikov gives to his sister a “small watercolor portrait on ivory…a portrait of his landlady’s daughter…He gazed at that expressive and sickly little face for a moment, kissed the portrait…” Still undecided: “The main things, the main thing is that now everything will go a new way; it will break in two..everything, everything, and am I ready for that? Do I myself want it? they say the ordeal is necessary for me! Why, why all these senseless ordeals? Why am I going to have a better understanding then, when I’m crushed by suffering and idiocy, in senile powerlessness after twenty years of hard labor, then I have now?” Raskolnikov acknowledges that he’s wicked and unworthy of love. “Oh, if only I were alone and no one loved me, and I myself had never loved anyone! None of this would be!…it is possible that in these next fifteen or twenty years my soul will become so humbled that I’ll reverently snivel in front of people…That’s why they’re going to exile me now, that’s what they want…Look at them all scuttling up and down in the street, and each one of them is a scoundrel and a robber by his very nature; worse than that — an idiot!” Pondering “by what process it might come about that he would finally humble himself before them all without reasoning, humble himself from conviction…Won’t twenty years of unremitting oppression finish him off completely? Water wears away stone…”
To Sonya’s. Dunya’s consolation: “…that her brother would not be alone: he had gone first to her, to Sonya, with his confession; in her he had sought a human being when he needed a human being; and she would go with him wherever fate sent him.” Sonya thinking about Raskolnikov: “Svidrigailov had told her the day before that there were two ways open for Raskolnikov — Siberia, or…She knew, besides, his vanity, his presumption, his self-conceit, and his disbelief. ‘Can it be that he has only faintheartedness and the fear of death to make him live?'” Night and Raskolnikov arrives at Sonya’s: “I’ve come for your crosses, Sonya. You’re the one who was sending me to the crossroads, why turn coward now that it’s come to business?” Raskolnikov’s fear of “all those stupid, beastly mugs” that will surround him when he goes in to confess — not wanting to go to Porfiry, he decides to turn himself in to Gunpowder. Two crosses, one of cypress, one of brass. “So this is the symbol of my taking a cross upon myself, heh, heh! that’s right. I haven’t suffered enough yet!” The pawnbroker’s two crosses. Sonya’s tears “She’ll be my nursemaid!” The green flannel shawl. Leaving Sonya behind. “…a corrosive and rebellious doubt was seething in his soul.” “…I wanted her tears, I wanted to see her frightened, to look at her heartache and torment! I wanted to cling at least to something, to linger, to look at a human being! And I dared have such hopes for myself, such dreams, abject as I am, worthless — a scoundrel, a scoundrel!” What will it be like to be taken away in a prison van? Giving his five kopecks to a beggar-woman. The Haymarket. The unpleasantness of having to encounter people. Remembering Sonya’s words, “‘Go to the crossroads…’ He trembled all over as he remembered it. And so crushed was he by the hopeless anguish and anxiety of this whole time, and especially of the last few hours, that he simply threw himself into the possibility of this wholesome, new, full sensation…He knelt in the middle of the square, bowed to the earth, and kissed that filthy earth with delight and happiness. He stood by and then bowed once more.” Mockery. Sonya bearing witness. “If I am indeed to drink this cup, what difference does it make?” The police station. Gunpowder. Learning of Svidrigailov’s suicide, “Raskolnikov felt as if something had fallen on him and crushed him.” Raskolnikov leaves, sees Sonya in the courtyard, and returns to the office. “It was I who killed the official’s old widow and her sister Lizaveta with an axe and robbed them.”
There’s not much I can add to this — the power of these two chapters, the riveting control Dostoevsky has over us as readers is staggering. A couple of thoughts though…
1. This passage on the shedding of blood:
“‘Which everybody sheds,’ he picked up, almost in a frenzy. ‘which is and always has been shed in torrents in this world, which men spill like champagne, and for which they’re crowned on the Capitoline and afterwards called benefactors of mankind. But just look closer and try to see! I wished people well and would have done hundreds, thousands of good deeds, instead of this one stupidity — or even not stupidity, but simply clumsiness, because the whole idea was by no means as stupid as it seems now that it failed (everything that fails seems stupid!). By this stupidity, I merely wanted to put myself in an independent position, to take the first step, to acquire means, and later everything would be made up for by the — comparatively — immeasurable usefulness…Well, I decidedly do not understand why hurling bombs at people, according to all the rules of siege warfare, is a more respectable form. Fear of aesthetics is the first sign of powerfulness!…Never, never have I been more clearly aware of it than now, and now more than ever I fail to understand my crime!”
Not a lot of remorse there. After this outburst, looking into Dunya’s eyes, he comes “to his senses,” “He felt that after all he had made these two poor women unhappy. After it was he who had caused…” So is his only regret that he made his mother and sister unhappy?
2. The stations of the Christ like progression of Raskolnikov through the Haymarket on to the police station.
3. And finally, a brief moment that convinced me (as if I needed convincing) of Dostoevsky’s genius as a novelist — the moment that should be the most emotional in the novel, Raskolnikov bowing down at the crossroads, shattered by the public’s response, “This one’s plastered all right!” “It’s that he’s going to Jerusalem, brothers, and he’s saying good-bye to his children and his motherland and bowing to the whole world, giving a kiss to the metropolitan city of Saint Petersburg and its soil.” Genius.
Enjoy. And don’t forget that we’ll be starting The Idiot on Monday, February 21st!