In “Crime and Punishment,” Sonya, Svidrigailov, and Lebezyatnikov represent the three sides of Raskolnikov. How? Which sides? Explain.
The novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky explores the dualism of human nature and the complexity of the consciousness caused by this dualism. The protagonist of the novel, Rodion Raskolnikov, is a multifaceted hero. Every trait of his contradictory character is personified by other characters: his doubles.
Sonya, Svidrigailov, and Lebezyatnikov represent oppugnant sides of Raskolnikov’s character and make possible a better and deeper understanding and analyzing the protagonist.
In fact, “Raskolnikov” is a descriptive last name. In Russian, “raskol” means “split.” In contrast with the main hero of the movie Split directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Dostoevsky’s hero does not suffer from a dissociative identity disorder. However, his inner world is intricate and complex. Joseph Frank writes that “the moral-psychological traits of his character incorporate this antinomy between instinctive kindness, sympathy, and pity on the one hand and, on the other, a proud and idealistic egoism” (101). His personality is a constant shift between two different points of view. The reader is able to understand Raskolnikov’s character as a whole only by analyzing both his good and immoral actions.
Sonya: Personifying Raskolnikov’s Conscience and Capacity for Good
While Svidrigailov and Lebezyatnikov represent repugnant sides of Rodion’s identity, Sonya personifies his sense of conscience and capacity for good. She is humble, tender, and virtuous. Her fear for the family makes her become a prostitute in order to make money for living. Sonya acknowledges the immorality of her choice, but she believes her self-sacrifice to be the only rescue for her poor family. She is an embodiment of mercy and humility, the main virtues in the Christian religion. Though Sonya chooses a sinful path, she refuses to abandon her moral principles. As a doppelganger, Sonya reflects innate morality and kindheartedness of Rodion. In the end, this side of his character triumphs: he confesses his crimes and tries to seek redemption.
Svidrigailov: Reflecting Raskolnikov’s Destructiveness and Wickedness
Svidrigailov is a complex character who represents Raskolnikov’s destructiveness, wickedness, and aptitude to compassion. Both characters admit their likeness, but Rodion is frightened by his similarity to this vicious and dark individual. He strongly resists the idea that they are doubles. Svidrigailov continually perpetuates the morality, and his behavior fits Raskolnikov’s theory of the “superman.” Although both characters are responsible for murders, they end in different ways. Svidrigailov kills himself, immersed in his despair and boredom, while Rodion “turns to the light side” and seeks forgiveness.
Lebezyatnikov: A Caricature of Raskolnikov’s Desire for Progressive Ideas
Lebezyatnikov reflects Raskolnikov’s character to a lesser extent than Sonya or Svidrigailov. He is more like a caricature of his desire to follow progressive ideas and theories. Fyodor Dostoevsky shows that blind worship of tendencies without understanding them is senseless and pathetic. The worst thing about this character is that he tries to stand out by all means, and even his good actions are aimed at demonstrating his commitment to the idea. In contrast to Lebezyatnikov, Rodion tries to find the justification to his theory. Eventually, he admits his idea’s fallacy.
Rodion Raskolnikov is an extremely complicated character. Fyodor Dostoevsky surrounded his protagonist with doubles who reflect his personal qualities in order to embody the internal conflict between his virtues and vices. Rodion pursues his theory like Lebezyatnikov, longs for power and destruction like Svidrigailov, and acts with compassion like Sonya. The use of doppelgangers allows readers to analyze the main hero and see him from different perspectives as a whole, but dissonant, personality. As Maurice Beebe wrote, “Crime and Punishment meets the test of unity in fiction: all the parts contribute to the whole, and the parts may be fully understood only when the whole is known” (151).
Beebe, Maurice. “The Three Motives of Raskolnikov: A Reinterpretation of Crime and Punishment.” College English, vol. 17, no. 3, Dec. 1955, pp. 151–158., doi:10.2307/495737.
Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton University Press, 1996.
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