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

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.

 
 

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