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Crime and Punishment Essay

Dreams often connote mystery and fantasy. Somehow, they offer something complex for people to understand. It is as if they have their own incomprehensible language. It was only when Sigmund Freud revealed his theory in the nineteen century about dreams that people finally got answers for their questions. Although there are sound theories nowadays that one way or another explains the nature and meaning of dreams, Freud’s insights remain as the fundamental foundation of dream analysis, especially those dreams incorporated in various literary works.

The novel “Crime and Punishment” (1866) by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a classic example, although the novel was written first before Freud’s revolutionary approach. Using Freudian ideas about dreams, the paper would try to decide what functional role dreams hold that affected the characters and the flow of events of the story. For this particular endeavor, two of the characters from the story would be analyzed: Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov and Arkady Ivanovitch Svidrigailov. Both of these men experienced having dreams that possess symbolic meanings.

It is therefore important to gather enough background information about these two characters to have a comprehensive view and study of their dreams. Background of the Characters Raskolnikov is the novel’s main character. Sometimes he is also being pertained as Rodya, Rodenka, and Rodka alternately. A drop-out student, Raskolnikov actually believes in the Napoleon-ubermensch theory—an idea saying that in this world, there are extraordinary and ordinary men wherein the former has the right to deviate from law and morality for the sake of the better or the majority (Skirbekk & Gilje, 2001,p.

359). Raskolnikov was testing if he could consider himself an extraordinary man capable of doing crimes but without feeling any guilt. It was not clear if this particular ideology was his motivation in killing the unpleasant old moneylender Alyona Ivanovna. Svidrigailov, on the other hand, is a former employer that could be characterized as sensual man without moral limits. He paid special interest towards Raskolnikov’s younger sister, Dunya. He has been suspected to have committed several crimes, making it appeared that he is the novel’s villain.

However, some parts in the novel showed Svidrigailov’s compassionate side, like when he gave the rest of his wealth to his fiancee. When Dunya rejected his love for her, Svidrigailov shot himself to death. Analysis of Raskolnikov’s and Svidrigailov’s Dreams In the novel, Raskolnikov had three significant dreams that practically offer the readers a guide to his psychological portrait: his dream about the mare, the old woman, and the plague. Svidrigailov, on one hand, had encountered only a single dream and that was before he decided to commit suicide.

As mentioned earlier, Dostoevsky has already been incorporating dreams in his literary works long before Freud exposed his theory about dreams. He seemed to have given emotions higher importance over logic (Breger, 1990). His use of dreams in his novel, however, is notably parallel with what Freud would propose—that dreams are people’s fears and desires hidden in their subconscious. Dostoevsky used dreams in the novel following the same idea. This could be further illustrated using Raskolnikov’s first dream.

In this particular dream, Raskolnikov was a seven-year old boy touring around the town with his father in a feast day. They walked past the tavern where they saw drunken men. One of these men named Mikolka invited everyone to ride in his cart. When all were aboard, he repeatedly whipped the mare that could hardly stand up due to its enormous burden. Raskolnikov saw how this mare has struggled and died in the cruel hands of Mikolka. He reached for the dead horse and was about to confront Mikolka when his father pulled him away from the crowd.

According to Alexander Vvedenskij (Cornwell & Christian, 1998), Dostoevsky employed this dream to function as a reference as to why Raskolnikov committed murder. The dream is evidence that Raskolnikov’s crime is apparently related to the unhappiness of his childhood. In addition, the dream represents as well Raskolnikov’s perception about women. The mare could symbolize women who are willing to submit their lives to their men, who were represented by Mikolka. Raskolnikov opposed this idea, though, which was evident with his treatment with her younger sister Dunya and love interest Sonia.

It is therefore clearly seen that Raskolnikov possessed compassion for humanity. However, because he was trying to embody the extraordinary man theory, he submitted to same side where Mikolka belongs. Raskolnikov’s second dream beating repeatedly the old woman was the author’s way in representing how the theory had affected Raskolnikov. In this particular dream, the old woman was not dying in spite his harsh actions. Instead, she continuously laughed at him as if she was mocking his failure. His dream continued with “… the bedroom door opened the merest slit, and in there were more people laughing and whispering (p. 288).

At this point, Raskolnikov was already battling with his conscience. The people in his dream symbolize the guilt he tried to ignore. However, this guilt still showed up in his subconscious through his dream. There was a battle inside him. Everytime he is in the state of consciousness, Raskolnikov embodied the extraordinary man. But when he is not, like when he is sleeping, his other opposite side exists. He was split into two personalities: one with compassion for others and the other one incapable of feeling such. This justifies the meaning of his name in the Russian context—a schism or split.

This split-up in Raskolnikov’s personality could be further understood using the character of Svidrigailov. If Raskolnikov was still in the dilemma of being an extraordinary man, Svidrigailov, on the other hand, was the full embodiment of it. He served as a foil to Raskolnikov, showing what would be Raskolnikov’s life if he decided to follow the same path—a man of no moral grounding. Svidrigailov’s dream of raping a five-year old girl, morally speaking, was unforgivable. Dostoevsky was just trying to show the effects of the extraordinary man theory in one’s life.

Svidrigailov’s life was led to moral destruction. Worst of all, Svidrigailov was not able to gain salvation until the end of his life. Finally, Raskolnikov’s third dream has something to do with his final realizations. This particular dream took place when he was in Siberia, particularly in the hospital, during the Lenten season. In his dream, he saw that a plague was engulfing European and Asian regions. The plague was in the form of microorganisms infecting people’s brain that would eventually lead them to being mad.

The plague, in effect, would corrupt people’s mind. Those who have been infected would still think that they are the most intellectual and reasonable people in the world, but in reality, they would not even know the difference between right and wrong. Few could survive from the plague but their locations would be nowhere to find. Using the images in this particular dream, the author suggested what track Raskolnikov would finally follow. The served as a forecast as to what might happen if men would still succumb to the theory of the extraordinary man.

This particular thinking would yield them to evil, to become people incapable of compassion for the humanity. Works Cited Breger, Louis. Dostoevsky: The Author As Psychoanalyst. NYU Press: New York, 1990 Cornwell, Neil and Nicole Christian. Reference Guide to Russian Literature. Taylor & Francis: London,1998 Dostoyevsky, Fyodor and Margaret Brantley. Crime and Punishment. Pocket Books: USA, 2004 Skirbekk, Gunnar and Nils Gilje. A History of Western Thought: From Ancient Greece to the Twentieth Century. Routledge: London, 2001


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