He did not even want to think of it . He drove away thougth. Painfully, thought
tracked him down. He only felt, he only knew, one way or another, everything had
to be changed." (Dostoyevsky 159)
How can Raskalnikiov change? The rest of Crime and Punishment is devoted
to the question. Raskalnikov's theories and idealism failed him, and he is left
with nothing but guilt, fear, and a knawing desire for freedom from his
concience. But where is such freedom to be found? How can Raskalnikov bridge the
schism he created between himself and mankind? These questions eventually lead
Raskalnikov to prison and to the grace of God, but first he must learn one thing
To understand fully the importance of the Christian (and Dostoyevsky's)
concept of humility in Crime and Punishment, one need look no further than to
the novel's second chapter in which Raskalnikov meets a drunk named Marmeladov.
Marmeladov, although nearly in a stupor, manages to grasp the essence of divine
grace and forshadows Raskalnikov's eventual atonement. For full effect,
Marmeladov's statement must be quoted in entirety. He shouts to the crowd in the
"And when He has finished judging all, He will summon us, too: 'You, too come
forth,' he will say, 'Come forth you drunkards, come forth you weaklings; come
forth you shameless ones!' And we will all come forth unashamed. And we will
stand before him, and He will say: 'You are swine, made in the image of the
Beast, with his seal upon you, but you, too come unto me!' And the wise and the
clever will cry out: 'Lord! why dost thou receive these men ?' And he will say: '
I receive them, O wise and clever ones, because not one among them considers
himself worthy of this." (Dostoyevsky 33)
Through Marmeladov's drunken rambling, Dostoyevsky echoes Pauline
sentiment in the first chapter of Corinthians, where it is stated that God will
shame the wise with folly and the strong with weakness (I Cor. 1:27). In Crime
and Punishment, this is the essence of the Gospel. God's acceptance of drunks
and weaklings in Marmeladov's allegory promts incredulity from the "wise and
clever." But to Dostoyevsky, humility is the greatest strength.
Clearly, Raskalnikov's salvation lies in the recognition of his own
weakness, but, after the murder he is far too obsessed with his own strength to
remember Marmeladov's words. Raskalnikov realizes that he is miserable, he is
unrepentant: he does not believe he has done wrong and he still believes that,
through strength of will, he can absolve his guilt. "'Enough,'" Raskalnikov
says. "'Now for the kingdom of light and reason . . . and power . . . Now we
shall match wits!' he added . . . as though he were adressing some dark force . .
." (Dostoyevsky, 191). However, it is not a dark force with which Raskalnikov
wrestles, but with God. Raskalnikov is still in rebellion and the schism remains.
Enter Sonya, the embodiment of divine weakness and catalyst of
Raskalnikov's eventual redemption. She is the daughter of Marmeladov. She is
forced into prostitution to provide for her family, but she does so willingly
out of love. She is submissive, uneducated, poor, and a woman. In short, Sonya
is everything her contemporary world counted as folly, but to Dostoyevsky she
too is a testament to God's grace. Sonya "feels that she has sunk to the depths,
and it is only God who keeps her going" (Gibson 94). In Sonya, one sees as great
a sinner as Raskalnikov at peace with herself and with God. Her secrets:
humility and love. Like her father, Sonya recognizes her unworthiness before God.
Her knowlege that God alone gives her worth allows her to love others
unconditionally, including Raskalnikov. To paraphrase I John 4:19, Sonya loves
because God first loved Sonya.
Against Sonya's meekness and love, Raskalnikov begins to break. At first,
he is argumentative, mocking Sonya's childlike faith. "'She's a holy fool!"
(Dostoyevsky 317) Raskalnikov thinks to himself, but he is still drawn to
Sonya's strength. At last, Raskalnikov begins to realize that he is not alone ,
and it is because of this realization that he confesses to Sonya. It can be said
that, in this confession, Raskalnikov's strength begins to submit to divine
weakness. It is through love and humility that the schism will be bridged.
However, Raskalnikov's confession to Sonya is not enough, and Sonya
knows it. Vyacheslav Ivanov said Sonya "asks only one thing of her beloved: that
he should aknowledge the reality of . . . mankind outside himself, and should
solemnly declare his acceptence of this new . . . faith by an act of confession
to all the people" (Ivanov 80). Sonya tells Raskalnikov to bow down at a
crossroads, kiss the earth he offended and say aloud "'I have killed!" After
repenting, Sonya says that Raskalnikov must face the consequences of his action
(Dostoyevsky 407). Only through accepting his guilt will Raskalnikov be healed,
but he is unwilling to do so. He is unrepentant and is thus not absolved of his
guilt, but he eventually makes up his mind to confess, and, in a nervous fit, he
falls to the ground at the Haymarket crossroads and kisses it. But the words "'I
killed,' which had perhaps been ready on his tounge died inside him."
(Dostoyevsky 506). Raskalnikov is unrepentant still. His ego prohibits him from
tota l submission.
Yet, Raskalnikov submits to the authorities and is sentanced to prison
in Siberia. Ever devoted, Sonya follows him, but Raskalnikov is "ashamed before
her" (Dostoyevsky 521), and treats her badly. Raskalnikov is still unrepentant,
for he regards his crime as "simply a blunder, the sort of thing that might
happen to anyone" (Dostoyevsky 521), but he is ashamed because he allowed
himself to feel guilty. Although he is phisically in prison, Raskalnikov's real
prison is spiritual. Raskalnikov remains a slave to guilt, and it is only
through repentance that the chains will be loosed.
It can be said that, in Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov never repents
in the theological sense of a concrete turning away from his sinful nature.
Indeed, to the last he merely entertains the idea of conversion to Christianity
(Dostoyevsky 528). But if indeed Crime and Punishment is a story about the grace
of God, shouldn't there be a conversion experience? Shouldn't Raskalnikov do
something equivalent to walking down the aisle weeping and utttering "I saw the
Dostoyevsky's answer would be an emphatic "No." In his life, faith came
gradually after years of struggle. Similarly, Dostoyevsky's hero Raskalnikov
must undergo "a gradual transition from one world to another" (Dostoyevsky 528).
Dostoyevsky understood that to define divine grace as a moment's conversion
experience was to cheapen it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that "Cheap grace is the
justification of sin without the justification of the sinner" (Bonhoeffer 46).
Dostoyevsky would have agreed, if Crime and Punishment is any indicator. As such,
there is no cheapening of grace in the novel. Rather, Dostoyevsky leaves the
reader at the begining of faith: love. For it is by Raskalnikov's love for Sonya
that the schism between Raskalnikov and mankind is finally bridged.
Fittingly, Raskanilov's redemption begins in the spring, a time of new
beginings. Raskalnikov "wept and embraced [Sonya's] knees . . . there was no
longer any doubt he loved her. He loved her infinitely. At long last, the moment
had come . . ." (Dostoyevsky 527). At last Raskalnikov looks beyond himself and
begins to see that he is in error and that there is something more than his
guilt. He is freed from the slavery of guilt. In short, in this brief encounter
with Sonya, the seed of faith is planted. Whether or not the seed will be
brought to fruition remains to be seen. However, given Sonya's love and
Raskalnikov's desire for freedom, salvation seems likely.
What, then, is the reader to learn about Christianity in Crime and
Punishment? Certainly one is presented with enough Christian symbolism, obscure
biblical allusion, and allegory to merit volumes of literary analysis and keep
thousands of otherwise aimless Russian literature experts employed. However, at
its fundamental level, Crime and Punishment presents itself as a novel about
contrasts: love and hate, right and wrong, young and old. Most importantly, the
novel contrasts the oppression of sin with boundless freedom that lies within
the grace of God. In Raskalnikov, Dostoyevsky has a testament that, in spite of
one's past, one can, in God's love, be renewed. Crime and Punishment tells us
that, no matter how great the schism between God and man may be, God's grace is
In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Raskalnikov undergoes a period of extreme psychological upheaval. By comparing this death and rebirth of Raskalnikov's psyche to the story of the resurrection of Lazarus, Dostoevsky emphasizes not only the gravity of his crimes, but also the importance of acceptance of guilt.
From the moment when Raskalnikov murders the old woman, his personality begins to change drastically. Dostoevsky challenges the reader to understand the madness which ensues by first demonstrating that the ideas and convictions to which Raskalnikov clung died along with the women. While the reader struggles with this realization, Dostoevsky incorporates the Biblical legend of Lazarus as a symbolic mirror for Raskalnikov's mind. By connecting the two, the reader encounters the foreshadowing of a rebirth of morals and beliefs, though what form this may assume remains cryptic. As references to Lazarus continue to occur, the feeling of parallelism increases in intensity. Just as Raskalnikov slowly struggled through madness, Lazarus lay dying of a terrible disease. When Lazarus eventually dies, Raskalnikov mimes this by teetering on the edge of insanity, the death of the mind. Eventually Sonya begins to pull Raskalnikov back to reality by relieving a portion of his guilt. As his Christ figure, she accomplishes this by providing the moral and spiritual sturdiness which Raskalnikov lost after his debasement during the murders. Sonya affects him not by active manipulation, but via her basic character, just as Christ personified his beliefs through the manner in which he lived his life. No matter what Raskalnikov says or does to her, she accepts it and looks to God to forgive him, just as Jesus does in the Bible. This eventually convinces Raskalnikov that what he did was in fact a crime and that he must repent for it and"seek atonement".
Through this realization, Raskalnikov decides he must redeem himself not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eye of God as well. By foreswearing his old philosophy and accepting his guilt, Raskalnikov again mirrors Lazarus's acceptance of Jesus as his savior. While Lazarus accepts his new life through his rebirth, Raskalnikov acknowledges his guilt and therefore allows his mind to begin life anew. Raskalnikov's symbolic gesture of accepting Sonya's cross reinforces and clarifies his link to Lazarus. Raskalnikov's final realization of his love for Sonya summarizes the moral of the Christian philosophy that through love of Christ comes eternal life. This final act allows a definite conclusion to both the tale of Lazarus and the story of Raskalnikov. By withholding the ultimate destination of Raskalnikov's life, Dostoevsky keeps the foreshadowing mostly obscure until both the reader and Raskalnikov are prepared to accept all of its ramifications.