Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov: on the brink of suicide. .. ,


           Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov: on the brink of suicide.

      In Dostoyevskys novel Crime and  Punishment,  the  main  character,
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov goes through a long series  of  events,  which
compare and contrast him with  the  people  around  him.  One  of  the  most
significant characters crucial to  understanding  Raskolnikovs  personality
is Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov.
      Overall, the enigma of Rodions persona is expanded and illuminated by
two characters: Svidrigailov as the dark, calculative, and  repulsive  side;
and Sonya Marmeladova as the compassionate, humane, and  spiritual  half  of
Raskolnikov. What makes Svidrigailov such an important element in the  novel
is the fact that by his  lack  of  morals  and  superiors,  he  becomes  the
epitome  of  Raskolnikov  theory  of  the  Ubermensch,  a  thought   Rodion
conceived out of desperation and mental fatigue.
      It is the comparison of Svidrigailov and Raskolnikov  that  eventually
reveals each of them stands on the theory of the  Super-human.  Despite  all
hopes of being among historys great people such as Napoleon, Julius  Caesar
et al, Raskolnikov fails the self-test  of  belongingness  to  the  superior
class. Perhaps,  Raskolnikov  even  hoped  that  the  murder,  if  committed
without remorse or doubt, would propel him into superiority.  He  definitely
had the reasons to believe in his  greatness  because  it  is  evident  that
Raskolnikov clearly displays some of the qualities of a  Super-human,  based
on his own standards: he is intelligent, quite arrogant, and  his  pride  is
very vividly apparent in his behavior with his only friend, Razumikhin,  and
several occasions,  on  which  he  had  refused  to  accept  other  peoples
assistance or support.  But  unfortunately,  contrary  to  what  Rodion  had
anticipated, the murder delivers crippling inward  blow  to  his  conscience
and self-image, and Raskolnikov  finally  realizes  that  he  is,  in  fact,
nothing but a trembling creature.
      Svidrigailov,  however,  fits  the  qualifications  of  an  Ubermensch
perfectly. There is nothing sacred in the world for  Arkady  Ivanovich.  The
sole purpose of his life is the hedonistic pursuit of his own selfish  goals
and practice of his self-made rights. The list of examples  that  attest  to
Svidrigailovs inhumanity is quite long, ranging from lies and debt  evasion
to rape and, possibly, murder.  For  instance,  when  he  learns  about  the
suicide of a fifteen-year old  girl,  whom  he  raped,  Svidrigailov  shrugs
without any remorse. The sadistic torment, which led his servant  Philip  to
suicide, also seems to have not  given  Arkady  Ivanovich  any  feelings  of
guilt. Svidrigailov is fully aware of his own vicious nature. Shortly  after
his marriage to Marfa Petrovna, he announces to her that  he  will  not  be
able to be a fully loyal husband. Clearly,  Svidrigailov  is  a  person  of
great vice and malice.
      With such a clear distinction between the  characters,  a  distinction
that decisively favors Svidrigailov as a superior  being,  why  does  it  so
happen that Raskolnikov, a failed theorist, a  confirmed  louse,  finds  a
new life at the end of the novel, while Arkady Ivanovich finally resorts  to
suicide? Is it not strange that Svidrigailov, having become completely  free
from his marital duties (which  he  never  honored,  anyway),  endowed  with
substantial income from his deceased wifes  estate,  not  burdened  by  any
family obligations, would take his own life, while Raskolnikov,  a  man  who
has betrayed himself and many people  around  him,  with  a  murder  on  his
hands, and severe prosecution impending, would embrace  his  misery  instead
of liberating himself in the waters of Neva?
      Raskolnikov contemplates suicide  on  many  occasions  throughout  the
novel. His first encounter with this  thought  occurs  at  a  canal  bridge,
where an ostensibly drunken woman jumps into the dirty water in  a  suicidal
attempt, but is  rescued  by  the  passersby.  At  this  point,  Raskolnikov
dismisses the idea of self-violence because it seems to be too  unsightly  a
spectacle. At several other times, it seems that the  author  is  repeatedly
discussing suicide, calling it going to America, which is suggested as  an
escape  promising  to  remove  an  individual  from  all   his/her   present
difficulties. This notion becomes clearer near the end of  the  novel,  when
Svidrigailov finally goes to America by a bullet to his right temple.  The
last time when Raskolnikov returns to thought of suicide  is  on  the  night
before  his  final  visit  to  the  police  station.  After   parting   with
Svidrigailov, he walks to the middle of  a  bridge  to  contemplate  suicide
once again. However, this time Rodions decision evolves from  factors  that
are  drastically  different  from  those  he  had  before.   There   is   an
alternative. There is a hope of regeneration and a normal life.
      As portrayed by the biblical figure of Lazarus, who rose from the dead
after  Jesus  called  to  God  and   prayed   for   Lazarus   resurrection,
Raskolnikovs process of coming back to life begins when  he  experiences  a
touch of divine intervention  love. Indeed, when a person  as  ascetic  and
nihilistic  as  Raskolnikov  experiences  love,  it  does   seem   like   an
impossibility whose occurrence may not be explained by anything  other  than
an act of God. Sonya Marmeladova is the object of Raskolnikovs love  and  a
catalyst for his  ultimate  transformation.  As  Svidrigailovs  antagonist,
Sonya embodies the split Raskolnikovs humane, compassionate side and  leads
him to recognition and a new life.
      Svidrigailov  and  Sonya  are  the  sides  between  which  Raskolnikov
vacillates throughout most of the novel. Having read Rodions article  about
crime,  Arkady  Ivanovich  finds  it  appropriate  to  attempt  to  befriend
Raskolnikov  despite  the  latters  explicit  hostility.  But  aside   from
Svidrigailovs ambitions  regarding  Dunya  and  the  discovery  of  kinship
between him and Raskolnikov, Arkady Ivanovichs innermost reason  to  search
for someone who might help him escape the boredom,  which  he  brought  upon
himself by consistently committing various antisocial  acts  that  alienated
him  from  everyone  and  left  him  utterly  alone.  The  last  straw   for
Svidrigailov is the rejection he receives from Dunya,  whom  he  desperately
craved.
      To  further  illustrate   Svidrigailovs   hopelessness,   Dostoyevsky
includes  the  story  about  Arkady  Ivanovichs  sixteen-year-old  fiance.
Although it seems that a man as perverse as Svidrigailov would not  hesitate
to take advantage of  that  innocent  child  (after  all,  he  has  done  it
before!), Arkady Ivanovich pays his last visit to that family and  leaves  a
gift of fifteen thousand  rubles.  Later  that  night,  Svidrigailov  has  a
dream, in which he morbidly contemplates the corpse  of  a  young  girl  who
drowned herself after being raped. In the second dream he  has  that  night,
he sees a five-year-old girl whose innocent countenance of  a  child  morphs
into the  expression  of  a  veteran  prostitute  as  Svidrigailov  watches,
terrified.  In  the  preceding  days,   Svidrigailov   has   been   becoming
increasingly convinced of his own worthlessness, and  these  dreams  finally
allow him to see who he is in perspective. No longer able  to  tolerate  his
own self, with no  place  to  go,  and  no  one  to  help  him  find  peace,
Svidrigailov uses the last bullet left in Sonyas revolver to take  his  own
life. Svidrigailov commits suicide in front of a stranger  whom  the  author
identifies as Jewish, a  people  Dostoyevsky  regards  with  disdain,  which
further shows the desperate loneliness that tormented Arkady Petrovich.
      At the time of Svidrigailovs suicide, Raskolnikovs  story  was  also
nearing its cathartic finale.  Dostoyevsky  completes  the  picture  of  the
novels denouement by creating an interesting inconsistency in  weather.  It
is stated that on the morning of Svidrigailovs suicide, the weather  was  a
disgusting mixture of rain, fog, and stinging cold. However, when  narration
turns to Raskolnikov and his walk to the police station, the day is said  to
have  been  warm,  sunny,  and  pleasant  since  that  morning.  This  is  a
deliberate  artistic  motion  used  by  the  author  to  contrast  the   two
characters who, at one point, stand somewhat close, but  eventually  succumb
to the separate fates they bring about by their predicaments.
      This is the ultimate question of this analysis: why did  Svidrigailov,
the real  Ubermensch,  commit  suicide,  while  Raskolnikov,  the  confirmed
louse, was able to attain peace and a chance to be happy? Well,  it  is,  in
fact, quite simple: it was Raskolnikovs mistake to think that he  ever  was
a super-human, and it was his fortune that he did not prove  himself  right.
If Raskolnikov was a character parallel  to  Svidrigailov,  he,  too,  would
have  acted  in  these  malicious,  self-centered  ways  that   would   have
eventually brought about  his  tragic  demise  alongside  Arkady  Petrovich.
Perhaps it was Rodions youthful exuberance,  the  unrestrained  flexing  of
his intellectual muscle that provoked him to take on the principles  of  the
world, but it was his extraordinary luck to have near  him  the  people  who
gave him back his mind and his heart.


"Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov: on the brink of suicide. .. , "