May 8, 1983
Copyright (c) John Leo 1995. All rights reserved.
Crime and Punishment essay questions
1. ``Why did Raskolnikov kill Alyona the pawnbroker?''
Raskolnikov did not kill Alyona the pawnbroker. This question is totally irrelevant and should not be answered at all. However, since one sentence essays usually receive low grades, I will answer a related question: ``Why didn't Raskolnikov kill Alyona the pawnbroker?''
It it obvious that Raskolnikov did not kill Alyona. Nikolai did. He confessed, didn't he? Sure, sure, I know what you're saying: Raskolnikov confessed too. But it is obvious that his confession was not a true confession. Raskolnikov had seen Nikolai's true confession, and was so moved that he decided he'd like to try confessing too. And one must not overlook the Christ symbolism in the novel. Raskolnikov is the obvious Christ-figure; he's poor, he's generous, he's schizophrenic. It all adds up. Raskolnikov is Christ's second incarnation but nobody realizes it's Him. Kind of sad. One should not overlook Raskolnikov's superior man theory. Nikolai, on the other hand, is the scum of the earth. He's a minor character, and minor characters always commit murders in books. What else do they have to do? One should not only look at the psychology of the characters in the novel, but of the author as well. Dostoevsky wouldn't write a story about some vile murderer. No. Dostoevsky was a good Christian writer. C&P is a handbook for becoming a Christian, not some murder psychology thriller.
Raskolnikov gives lots of reasons for the murder, and it is obvious from the sheer number of reasons that he gives that Raskolnikov is innocent. He can't even make up a realistic motive! No one is fooled. I sure wasn't. Raskolnikov is surely a messed up character. He is upset because he can't get any work, so he decides to plead guilty to a murder he knows nothing about just so he can get some hard labor in Siberia. Oh, sure, he want back to the apartment and questioned where the body was. Sure he could relate the entire murder in realistic detail. These are merely coincidences, just like his meeting with Marmeladov. C&P was often criticized for its overuse of coincidence. Perhaps the most confusing scene in that it leads many unwary readers astray is the actual description of the murder itself. This of course was just a dream. Dostoevsky was very fond of dream symbolism and used it often in C&P.
So it is now obvious, I am sure, that Raskolnikov did not kill Alyona, and that Nikolai did. But why did Nikolai kill Alyona? Well, Nikolai was an early existentialist. He just killed her for the thrill of it. Better than going to the movies. While I'm at it, I might as well clear up some other misconceptions people have about the novel. Sonya was not a prostitute. She was a nun. She did not make 30 rubles that one night, she got the money as donations for the poor. The Marmeladovs were not really poor. They were actually the idle rich who decided to pretend they were poor because they were bored. Marmeladov's death was an unfortunate accident resulting from this little game, but Marfa's cough was faked. Some critics say that Marmeladov's death was faked as well, but this is debatable.
Dostoevsky did not write Crime and Punishment; Jorge Luis Borges, author of the schizophrenic essay ``Borges and I,'' did. He wrote both simultaneously, C&P with his left hand, ``B&I'' with his right. The right side of the brain, which is more artistic, thus wrote the artistic novel; the left side, which is more scientific and which was the only side consciously aware of Borges' schizophrenia, wrote the essay. Borges was left-handed, which explains the two works' relative lengths. C&P was originally written in English. It was then translated into Russian, and then back to English again. In the process much of the novel was changed or lost (for example, the name of the author was changed). It is interesting to read the original English version to note how it differs. Raskolnikov is not the real name of that character, his original name is Todd Rundgren. The novel did not take place in Russia, but rather Boston and surrounding areas. Whole sections were left out; for example, Rundgren's participation in the Boston Tea Party and later the Communist Party. He became Lenin's right hand man in the Russian revolution. Sonya was a cashier at Blocks. They fell in love with each other after she gave him the wrong change.
Rundgren, or Raskolnikov if you wish, was a student at Harvard law school. There he learned how to confess to hideous murders successfully. He learned much about law and was even once featured on the T.V. show The Paper Chase. Sonya went to Wellesley. Raskolnikov liked Harvard, but his mother, a president of a local bank, and his sister, a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, thought the school a bit too old for the young Raskolnikov. So they tried to transfer him to Brown. Raskolnikov was forced to quit law school. It was very tragic, and was what eventually made him confess to a crime in Russia that he couldn't possibly have committed. What a tragedy. Ah, but I know all about that sort of tragedy. I was once a law student at the University of Leningrad, but I was forced to leave due to lack of funds. I lived in a lousy little apartment, where I dreamed hideous dreams of violence and death. My name is Raskolnikov. I killed Alyona and I don't know why.