Redemption Through Suffering in Crime and Punishment

In Dostoevsky’s Note Form Underground, the underground man states that Free will means having the freedom to make choices that may damage the individual and cause suffering, but suffering is the sole cause of consciousness (Lantz 74). The Dostoevskian Character, if he achieves salvation at all, always does so by working through his crime to the repentance which lies beyond it. He never achieves salvation first and avoids committing the crime. Specific individual crime and therefore specific individual suffering is an unavoidable step toward salvation (Cox 36) .

In Dostoevesky’s novel Crime and Punishment Raskolnikov is no exception to the Dostoevskian character. He too only finds salvation after committing his individual crime by working through his spiritual suffering, which leads to confession and ultimately his salvation through the acceptance of his guilt. It is by the grace of Porifry’s timing and through Sonia’s sharing of his burden and unconditional love that Raskolnikov is redeemed both intellectually and emotionally and finally, “life steps back into the place of theory”.

In trying to understand Raskolnikov’s erratic behavior and revolt against God in Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, one can look to his name for a clue. Raskolnikov comes from the Russian root Raskol translated “Schism” or “Split”. Many critics believe Dostoevsky names his characters very purposefully to give insight to the reader and Raskolnikov is no exception. Dualism is the key to understanding Raskolnikov’s character, a young man searching to define himself. He experiences an emotional-intellectual split in his person (Bloom 66). His genuine feelings of compassion for the impoverished and troubled citizens of St. Petersburg oppose his “Napoleonic” theory, intellectual arrogance and contempt for those same suffering citizens. He often takes steps to alleviate those who are suffering, and afterwards feels disgust with himself for betraying his own intellectual principles.

Before Raskolnikov commits the murder of an old pawnbroker he again faces this emotional-intellectual conflict. Although he believes that one is able to “step over a corpse or wade through blood… for the sake of his idea”, he is horrified at the thought of what he plans to do (Dostoevsky 261). He holds to a theory that anything is permissible for the extraordinary man who dares to make his own laws and the rest of society is made up of inferior, ordinary men who Raskolnikov says “serve only to reproduce… men who have a gift to utter a new word” (Dostoevsky 261). The murder of an old pawnbroker is therefore a test to rid himself of his inner conflict and determine if he is a great man who stands above the miserable masses or if he is in fact one of them. He tells Sonia, “Listen: When I went to the old woman’s that time I only went to test myself” (Dostoevsky 410).

Directly after he commits the murder, Raskolnilov again faces his inner conflict. His heart gives him a desire to confess his crime because he is burdened with enormous guilt, despite his utilitarian reasoning that led him to commit the murder. While he is still in the old woman’s room he wishes to give himself up, “not from fear, but from simple horror and loathing of what he had done” (Dostoevsky 83). Raskolnikov continues to faces great spiritual suffering throughout the majority of the book. At first his reason seems to fail him. For a moment he even believes that all his clothes are covered with blood and that he could not see it because his reason was clouded (Dostoevsky 93). The next minute he develops a fever and falls into a deep sleep for two days. When he awakes, he goes on a walk to discard of any blood stained evidence but for some reason is drawn to the pawnbrokers home, wishing to “fall on his knees, and confess everything…” (Dostoevsky 97). Throughout the novel Raskolnikov is conscious of his inner turmoil but chooses to keep his intellectual life split off from the rest of his being. Not only is it split, his intellectual life is overextended to the point that it eclipses the natural desire of his heart to confess, causing great spiritual suffering (Leone 62). Dostoevsky writes: “that eclipse of reason and failure of will power attacked a man like a disease” (Leone 74).

The spiritual suffering that Raskolnikov continues to face eventually purifies and redeems his mind because this suffering humbles him. This leads Raskolnikov to finally submit to the voice of his conscience and so diminish his intellectual arrogance that tried to place itself beyond the moral law (Lantz 422). Porfiry, the detective investigating the murder, is Raskolnikov’s intellectual redeemer because he provokes Raskolnikov to question his theory of extraordinary men. Porfiry holds a great diologue with Raskolnikov where he continually questions every aspect of an article Raskolikov has written and published on his Napoleon theory (Dostoevsky 261). He also explains to Raskolnikov that suffering for a crime is the only means to redemption. He explains, “suffering, Rodion Romanovich, is a great thing… there is an idea in suffering” (Dostoevsky 348).
Not only does Porfiry challenge Raskolnikov’s theory, he also gives him time for his spiritual suffering to lead him to confession and ultimately salvation. If Porfiry were to have arrested Raskolnikov immediately, it would have ruined Raskolnikov’s intellectual redemption through suffering and self-realization. Because of the grace of Porfiry’s timing, Raskolnikov confessed and therefore came to the realization of the error of his “Napoleon” theory. Raskolnikov attempts to explain, rationalize and justify his crime to Sonia, a prostitute who he has fallen in love with but can not understand why. He rejects each attempt as soon as he offers it. As he attempts to explain his theory, he realizes how incomplete it was. This realization is seen in the fact that as soon as he offers a reason, he then rejects it with the words: “No, No, that wasn’t it” (Dostoevsky 412). It would have been of no advantage to arrest Raskolnikov unless it was for simple punishment, before he acknowledged the error of his own ways. In this case, salvation would have been impossible because Raskolnikov would never have accepted his own guilt (Terras 71).

Awareness of one’s own guilt means that external punishment can finally be accepted as a means of expiation. Therefore when Raskolnikov becomes ware of the error of his theory, he goes to see Sonia in preparation for his later confession. Dostoevsky’s theory that “suffering leads to salvation” and that through suffering man’s sins are purified are now brought into the foreground (Lantz 422). Raskolnikov is ready to confess and accept his punishment but he fears that the burden will be too heavy for him to bear alone. He goes to Sonia to ask if she will follow him to exile in Siberia and share his burden. He says to her, “Because I couldn’t bear my burden I have come to throw it on another” (Dostoevsky 411). Sonia readily accepts Raskolnikov’s burden because of her unconditional love and compassion for him. When he tells her of the murder she kisses and hugs him and tells him “I will follow you, I will follow you everywhere… Together, together! I will follow you to Siberia” (Dostoevsky 407).
Earlier in the novel, Porfiry Petrovitch had asked Raskolnikov if he believed in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Now, Raskonikov asks Sonya to read him that same story. Therefore, Dostoevsky’s two redemptive figures, Porfiry and Sonya, are connected through the same biblical story. Raskolnikov, like Lazarus, died one type of death, isolation from society and great spiritual torment, as a result of the crime. Through Christ, Lazarus was raised from the dead; now through Sonya help, Raskolnikov hopes to be regenerated to life. Therefore, both stories are of people who were separated from the living and through some incredible miracle were restored to the living. The story is one of suffering, of great suffering that was alleviated by the miracle of restoring life. Therefore, if Sonya can restore Raskolnikov to life, his suffering will be alleviated (Leone 80).

In asking Sonya to join him, he breaks out of his isolation, or death, caused by the crime. Sonya’s advice to Raskolnikov is to suffer and expiate his sin, “to go at once, this very minute, stand at the cross-roads” and confess, because confession of sin is the beginning of redemption (Dostoevsky 415). She wishes for him to accept suffering and achieve atonement through it. She gives him her cross and tells him to put it on when he has gone to meet his suffering and confessed to Porfiry. She then tells him to come to her, She will put on a cross and they will pray together, a symbol of her taking up his cross, his burden, and sharing in his suffering.

Because of the suffering he accepted, Raskolnikov no longer faces an intellectual-emotional split, or tries to oppress his emotions with ration. A crime can serve as the catalyst toward provoking suffering and eventually leading to rebirth and this is what happened for Raskolnikov. He needed to suffer in order to be regenerated. On the last page of the epilogue, Dostoevsky writes that Raskolnikov could “not have analyzed anything consciously; he was simply feeling. Life had stepped into the place of theory and something quite different would work itself out in his mind”. Suffering is a kind of purgatory that can cleanse the soul. Dostoevsky wrote in his 1873 Writer’s Diary that “the principal and most basic spiritual need for people is the need for suffering” (Lantz 423).

Work Cited
Bloom, Harold Edt. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment Bloom’s Notes.
Chelsea House Publishers: USA, 1996.
Cox, Gary. Tyrant and Victim in Dostoevsky. Slavic Publishers: Columbus, OH, 1984.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Bantam Books: New York, 2003.
Leone, Bruno Edt. Readings on Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Greenhaven Press: San Diego,
Terras, Victor. Reading Dostoevsky. The University of Wisconsin Press: Madison,
Lantz, Kenneth. The Dostoevsky Encyclopedia. Greenwood Press: London, 2004.