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Crime and Punishment - Part 2

#179: Oct. - Dec. 2021 (Fiction)
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Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Please use this thread to discuss Part 2 of Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Having just murdered two innocent old women in cold blood, Raskolnikov is feeling rather paranoid. Considering that it is rather likely the police will be out to get him, his paranoia seems understandable. Such a gruesome massacre of the innocent is the sort of abominable wickedness that becomes the talk of the town.

Speaking of massacre of the innocent, the most famous example is King Herod’s murder of all the baby boys of Bethlehem, a heinous event that somehow escaped the notice of all historians until it was brought to light a century later by Saint Matthew, in text with intriguing resonance to the story of the Passover murder of the Israelite children in Egypt. But I digress.

Thick drops of congealed blood clung to the frayed edge of his trousers, the only trace he could detect of the crime. These were rapidly removed. But how to hide the trinkets he stole?

Like Lady Macbeth trying to remove the blood stains from her hands, with the infamous line ‘out out damned spot’, Raskolnikov is consumed by his guilt, unable to escape the overwhelming psychological dawning of the psychopathic depths of his deed.

Having cut up the ridiculous noose he used to conceal the axe, his shivering delirium dwells on whether the pieces of torn linen could become evidence. The insane absurdity is that far more egregious signs of his guilt are likely to emerge.

Suffering the punishment of conscience, R finds more and more traces of blood, some possibly imaginary. His delirium reminds me of a famous 1948 short story by Ray Bradbury, The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, in which a murderer becomes so psychologically consumed with removing possible and even impossible fingerprints that he forgets to escape the scene of the crime. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fruit ... f_the_Bowl

And then in the midst of all this he receives a summons to attend the police station.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

I found myself back in a quandary with this part. Is Raskolnikov a daring Napoleonic experimenter in transcending moral constraints? Or is he just a fevered madman, chasing his own delirious thoughts around in circles? It seemed to me in this part that Dostoevsky was taking a position and tipping his hand, so to speak. R's conscience is indeed weighing on him, and preventing him from fulfilling his glorious destiny as a man above all convention and above mass morality. He doesn't find himself flooded with unexpected remorse (though the murder of the unintended second victim will come to feel more and more like an actual moral transgression - sorry about the spoiler) but his connections to other people cause him to care about being caught, and not only for the punishment that might follow.

I am coming to the opinion that Dostoevsky had attached himself to a thought experiment, one that he might have considered for himself quite seriously. What if a person of skeptical and self-regarding views (like himself, to an extent) came to contemplate committing "the perfect crime" just because he was above ordinary morality? He lived in an age when it was possible to feel quite daring for judging the hypocrisy and shallow moral views of "polite society" and, like other characters in Russian literature, (I am thinking of Turgenev, in particular) R crosses the line into setting himself up as sole judge of what is worthy and noble and just. And I think Dostoevsky is moving toward acknowledging the absurdity of contemplating such a sovereign individual, who could somehow exist outside the values and longings of the rest of society. Having "tried" it, he concludes it was a delusion.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

So, some answers to my questions are here.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/book ... ngham.html

(Sorry if it has a paywall). A new book is out (The Sinner and the Saint, by Kevin Birmingham) arguing that Dostoyevsky had run across a description of a murder trial of a poet-murderer, Pierre-Francois Lacenaire, and found it intriguing enough that he based his masterful novel on it. The author argues that Dostoyevsky began exploring the power, and pathetic failings, of ideas. Interestingly, "Raskol" means split or schism, so Raskolnikov is a sort of schizophrenic (one might say schizoid, but the meaning I learned for that in the 70s is apparently not the meaning in use today.)

Dostoyevsky also drew on the characters of actual murderers he met during his years exiled to Siberia. So a mere "thought experiment" is a totally inadequate way to express what was at work in D's mind as he composed this enigmatic and enthralling work. This helps me to understand why he had several tracks going at once in his exploration of the collision between morality, nobility of spirit and aspirations of transcendent individual autonomy. He has some fascinating characters woven into the story, but never seems to try to make a coherent system of understanding them.

All the effort I put into trying to discern one, and it is evidently not there. I feel like the guy who sees the tiger, peering into the forest, but no tiger actually ever actually materializes. I had this experience with the other story I have read by Dostoyevsky, "The Brothers Karamazov." I kept expecting him to pull the threads together into a coherent perspective, but the end result is what the Grand Inquisitor tries to ward off, which is the responsibility of each reader to "make of it what he or she can".
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Picking up from the summons to the police station, we find R in a state of fevered delirium, clutching the pieces of evidence of his guilt, the shreds of his bloodstained clothing, as if singing out like the voices of the fates. His initial fear is that the summons is to answer a charge of murder. His existential dilemma, to be or not to be, degenerates into manic behaviour, pulling his bloody sock on and off, veering from humour to despair, from confidence to paranoia, consumed by what Dostoyevsky calls the cynicism of misery. Walking past the murder house, R contemplates confession.

At the police station, we find yet another of these sociological vignettes describing Russian city life. Dostoyevsky shows his remarkable deft ability to draw characters with just a few well chosen terms. The buxom lady has a smile that is at once cringing, uneasy and impudent, a classic description of how people react to officialdom. The assistant superintendent is flummoxed by how R’s bearing does not match his slovenly dress, as though R is a weird mix of noble and peasant. “What do you want?” he shouted, apparently astonished that such a ragged fellow was not annihilated by the majesty of his glance.
It turns out the summons is just for debt due to non-payment of rent, the very poverty that inspired the murder. This news inspires sudden intense indescribable relief in R, prompting him to engage in impudent attacks on the police for smoking in the office.
The profoundly nihilistic outlook that enabled R to commit such horrific murders soon emerges again as he expresses contempt for the legalities of debt collection, feeling the IOU is not even worth his attention. This impudence escalates to an instant of full, direct, purely instinctive joy, something that profoundly irritates the policeman, who takes it out on a woman in the office who is charged with making too much noise at her house. Again alcohol is the lugubricant, the sad enabler of misery and violence.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

It turns out the noise in the woman’s house was caused by a drunken author, a story that prompts the policeman to cast a contemptuous glance at Raskolnikov, reflecting the disreputable standing of the artistic and intellectual cultural circles two centuries ago in Russia among officials: “They are like that, authors, literary men, students, town-criers.... Pfoo!”

A nihilistic modern rationalism had settled upon the educated class like a catish fog. As Russia wrestled its Mongol and Western influences, the intellectuals imagined a Russia that might bring modern reason to lift the peasant torpor. The Mongol strain later partly won out in Stalin, who picked up tsarist methods from the time of the Tatar Yoke that enslaved Russia to Mongol taxation, when Moscow was established as the Khanite enforcer after the invasion by Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde, the Altan Ordu.

The intellectuals of Russia have a glorious and tarnished history. Intellectualism has been a political force since the eighteenth century, when Poland resisted Russian rule - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligentsia

The Russian intelligentsiya also was a mixture of messianism and intellectual élitism, which the philosopher Isaiah Berlin described as follows: "The phenomenon, itself, with its historical and literally revolutionary consequences, is, I suppose, the largest, single Russian contribution to social change in the world. The concept of intelligentsia must not be confused with the notion of intellectuals. Its members thought of themselves as united, by something more than mere interest in ideas; they conceived themselves as being a dedicated order, almost a secular priesthood, devoted to the spreading of a specific attitude to life."[18]

Raskolnikov presents a satire of the intellectuals, a sort of ‘Trahison des Clercs’ with reason not so much betrayed as degraded and corrupted by the bitter difficulty of life and the fantasy of the immanent imagination. Through Part II of Crime and Punishment we will see how intellectual influences appear in Raskolnikov’s remorse for his crime.

Enter the superintendent of the district himself, Nikodim Fomitch, a good-looking officer with a fresh, open face and splendid thick fair whiskers.
Last edited by Robert Tulip on Wed Nov 17, 2021 12:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

In his conversations with the police and clerks, Raskolnikov comes close to losing it altogether. To the accusations of his tormentor that he is an author and cad, R pleads feeble excuses of love affairs and tragic events. The clerk instructs him to take dictation, at which point he enters a bleak and tortured existential reverie, consumed by the sensation that:
“...strange to say he suddenly felt completely indifferent to anyone’s opinion, and this revulsion took place in a flash, in one instant. If he had cared to think a little, he would have been amazed indeed that he could have talked to them like that a minute before, forcing his feelings upon them. And where had those feelings come from? Now if the whole room had been filled, not with police officers, but with those nearest and dearest to him, he would not have found one human word for them, so empty was his heart. A gloomy sensation of agonising, everlasting solitude and remoteness took conscious form in his soul.”

“...he felt clearly with all the intensity of sensation that he could never more appeal to these people in the police-office with sentimental effusions like his recent outburst, or with anything whatever... He had never experienced such a strange and awful sensation. And what was most agonising--it was more a sensation than a conception or idea, a direct sensation, the most agonising of all the sensations he had known in his life.”
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Handing back the dictation of his IOU statement to the clerk, R is sorely tempted to confess the double murder and theft and begin to expiate his guilt. But then of a sudden, his notoriety confronts him. The two senior police were discussing how the murder was committed.

The two men who confronted R through the latched door at the murder scene are obvious suspects. Their innocence is proved by how they called the porter. They state themselves that they knocked and the door was locked; yet three minutes later when they went up with the porter, it turned out the door was unfastened. These police speculate that the murderer must have bolted himself in, seizing the moment to escape while they fetched help.

This is a useful plot device for Dostoyevsky to summarise the case, with police able to see how he did it.

Seeking to leave this rather difficult scene, Raskolnikov collects his hat and promptly faints to the floor. After a short subsequent interrogation, accompanied by concern for his health, the police tell him he is free to go. Once on the street, his former terror masters him completely again.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

The psychological portrait of the mad killer next finds Raskolnikov returning home from his near brush with doom at the police station. Determined to prevent detection, after having come so close to a full emotional confession of his horrific guilt, in his confused torment, R feels that getting rid of the junk he stole from the murder victim will remove all evidence. He loads up his coat with the trinkets with a sense of purpose despite feeling shattered, expecting arrest at any minute.

His plan to dump the hot goods in the canal is foiled by the presence of too many people. In his absent forgetful state, R finds what he thinks is the perfect hiding spot, under a large rock near a shed.

This is a story of extremes, seeking to portray the existential emotional psychology of the guilty conscience. It is interesting how the whole story appears from Raskolnikov’s perspective, in such a way that despite his evil barbarity and moral indifference we can somehow find a sort of twisted sympathy for him.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Dostoyevsky is a master of precise and intense description of emotional psychology. “An intense, almost unbearable joy overwhelmed R for an instant” after burying his tawdry loot. R insanely believes he has buried his tracks, when his clear symptoms of psychosis show he is in no position to assess what evidence may exist of his crime. We feel the fragile and brittle nature of R’s confidence in his “thin, nervous noiseless laugh” at his unburdening himself of the evidence of his slaughter. These adjectives look to be deliberately chosen to imply mental instability. What is a thin laugh? Can you really laugh without noise? I can imagine a crazy like Raskolnikov could.

His angry sense of distraction of course circles back to his criminal guilt. He realises that his failure to even look in the stolen purse is idiotic, showing he had no real purpose in committing the murders, that he suffers from anomic nihilism. Putting it down to the illness of fretting, he imagines his recovery. This leads R into another acutely described existential sensation: “an immeasurable, almost physical, repulsion for everything surrounding him, an obstinate, malignant feeling of hatred.”
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

For someone so burdened by the guilty conscience brought on by his horrendous and senseless slaughter of the innocent, it is unsurprising R wants someone to talk to. He finds himself as if by chance outside the apartment of his friend Razumihin, after having planned to visit him already.

Typically, this character looks about as disreputable as Raskolnikov. Razumihin is the classic writer in the garret, unkempt, unshaven and unwashed. In his terrified delirium, R immediately regrets walking up the five flights of stairs to his friend’s room and seeks to escape. This psychology of isolation reflects his pervasive justified sense of fear that any sympathy will cause him to spill out his story.

Next, the raving farce sees R silently accept the generous offer of translating work, only to immediately turn back and reject it, provoking astonishment from Razumihin. As soon as he gets on the street, muttering and confused, he gets whipped by a coachman for walking in front of his horse in the middle of the road, oblivious to his surrounds.

His angry bewilderment sees an old lady give him money, alms for the mad, which produces in R a further existential reverie as he stands on the Neva bridge on this beautiful summer’s day amidst the glorious sights of Saint Petersburg that left him strangely cold; this gorgeous picture was for him blank and lifeless. It wrung his heart that he had cut himself off from everyone and from everything at that moment. Standing on the bridge he tosses the coins into the river.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Unsurprisingly, the mental turmoil of his crime gives Raskolnikov nightmares. And once again, Dostoyevsky displays sheer mastery of evocation: “Good God, what a scream! Such unnatural sounds, such howling, wailing, grinding, tears, blows and curses he had never heard. He could never have imagined such brutality, such frenzy. In terror he sat up in bed, almost swooning with agony. But the fighting, wailing and cursing grew louder and louder.”

R believes he hears the policeman he recently met violently assaulting his landlady. The lucidity of the event is complete. Fearing he has gone mad, the sounds are so distinct that he fears they are coming for him too.

The cook kindly brings him food, and is dumbfounded by his tales of screaming and assault. Her explanation, that it is the blood crying in his ears, can only make Raskolnikov feel that she knows what he has done, so totally consumed is he by guilt. The scene is like the mark of Cain, cursed for murdering his brother Abel, with the earth itself crying out over the blood he has spilt.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

As an apparent invalid, Raskolnikov is given much care and attention, such as soup, pillows and company. The friendliness of the people around him contrasts with his secret psychosis. His friend Razumihin has found out all about him after their strange encounter at his garret, except of course his well concealed murderous proclivities. The reader notes constant references that R will imagine conceal knowledge of his guilt, and he does not speak, but keeps his eyes fixed upon Razumihin, full of alarm. Every conversation appears through the prism of the fact that R and the reader know the back story of which his friends are blissfully unaware. R mumbles along to maintain his cover, when really he wants to shriek and scream, and perhaps kill himself.

Like an angel, Razumihin has investigated the IOU which took R to the police station, and has shown extraordinary friendship by himself guaranteeing it and buying it from the businessman who owned it, eliciting nothing but suspicion, irritation and impatience from the object of his benefaction. Now of course R wonders if in his mad delirium he has confessed to the murder. He asks what he may have said. His friends tell him that in his insanity he had continued to obsess about the ways he had hidden the stolen trinkets, although nothing he said about his sock and trousers made sense to them. But still, in his miserable bewilderment, he has told no one the dark truth that is eating him up. He maintains the absurd fear that they all know and are simply and cruelly taunting him by withholding their knowledge of his murders.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Dostoyevsky’s taunting of his main character is a remarkable thing for an author to do. Razumihin asks Raskolnikov “Are you afraid of having let out some secret?” The innocent teasing question contains delicious irony. Yes, indeed, R is terrified that in his delirium he has spilled the beans about his guilt for the murders. But Razumihin has not the slightest suspicion that his friend could have committed such a heinous crime, so his question is asked merely in jest. He does not imagine its wounding effect, as R wonders if his only friend knows full well what he has done and is taunting him. The real taunt of course is the in-joke shared by Dostoyevsky with the readers. It turns out that R babbled incoherently about all the measures he had taken to conceal his crime, while somehow retaining the presence of mind not to confess the central fact, which continues to consume him like a cancer of the mind. This uncertainty sends him into a burning, twitching impatient madness. He vaguely plans to escape to America, something that must have saved numerous European criminals in the 1800s who had more enterprise and initiative to follow through. No wonder he is so extremely irritable with everyone he speaks to.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

If you are wondering how to introduce a character, here is a sublime example from Dostoyevsky at the start of Chapter Four
Zossimov was a tall, fat man with a puffy, colourless, clean-shaven face and straight flaxen hair. He wore spectacles, and a big gold ring on his fat finger. He was twenty-seven. He had on a light grey fashionable loose coat, light summer trousers, and everything about him loose, fashionable and spick and span; his linen was irreproachable, his watch-chain was massive. In manner he was slow and, as it were, nonchalant, and at the same time studiously free and easy; he made efforts to conceal his self-importance, but it was apparent at every instant. All his acquaintances found him tedious, but said he was clever at his work.
The number of adjectives in this paragraph, and the deft word palette chosen by this masterly writer is instructive for the budding writer. I count twenty seven adjectives, but that includes a few that are ambiguous.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

“I am well, I am perfectly well!” Raskolnikov declared positively and irritably. He raised himself on the sofa and looked at them with glittering eyes, but sank back on to the pillow at once and turned to the wall.
Eyes that glitter are a well-known symptom of mental illness, like the grey beard loon from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The condition known as Sparkling Eyes in euphoric mania often creates a shimmering quality to the liquid in the eyes.
After a brief conversation about whether they could be bribed for a baked onion, the discussion turns to the murder of the pawnbroker and her sister, naturally Raskolnikov’s favourite topic in view of his intimate knowledge of the details. Rather than share any gruesome secrets, R instead stares resolutely at a flower, remaining immobile as a rock when asked if he knows anything about this case.
The outrage is that the case against the men who confronted R at the murder scene is so flimsy and circumstantial, but the clumsy police have detained them anyway. But there are other suspects. And R’s friend proceeds to relate the case against the suspects in remarkable detail. One can well imagine how R is squirming while listening to all this.
R almost breaks when the story gets to the point of a pair of earrings hidden behind a door, presumably the very door he himself had concealed himself behind after dispatching the pair. Perhaps he had inadvertently dropped these earrings. Rather than explain his emotional outburst at hearing this news, he follows up his screams by going mute.
The story is a great mystery, with the prime suspects behaving in ways that are totally implausible. Dostoyevsky is constantly pushing the limits of how Raskolnikov can avoid detection.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

The anguish Raskolnikov has endured, concealing his murderous guilt, makes him suicidal. After his friends have left he sneaks out of his room, determined to kill himself. He gives money to street musicians and a prostitute, starts strange conversation, and contemplates how those condemned to death would prefer to live in torment than to die.

Getting the newspapers from the last five days to see how his murders were covered, he is interrupted by Zametov, the clerk from the police station. Zametov is amazed by the mad delirium of Raskolnikov’s conversation as he confesses directly to why he got the papers, something that would naturally arouse suspicion. Dostoyevsky has Raskolnikov skate as close to confession as possible while concealing his guilt, leading Zametov to express impatient perplexity at his mysterious remarks, which the reader knows reflect this upwelling desire to account for his hideous murder.

And of course this leads Zametov to wonder – unstated - if perhaps Raskolnikov is the murderer. Speaking of another crime, R then says, with considerable irony, “One has only to blab in his cups and it all collapses. Simpletons!” Of course that is exactly what he is doing, blabbing in his cups, but with the vainly arrogant idea that he is not a simpleton. R seems to imagine he can somehow confess without confessing, attempting to gain the emotional comfort of unburdening his crime without the risk of punishment.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Having virtually but not really confessed to Zametov, Raskolnikov bursts out of the restaurant only to confront his friend Razumihin, whom he proceeds to lambast and reject just for caring about him. Now he is getting genuinely suicidal. Declining an invitation to Razumihin’s house-warming party, R escapes to a bridge, where his friend fears he will jump. But amazingly, there is another suicide attempt that distracts him, a woman, who is dragged out of the river by the police. St Petersburg is a sad city. This is at least her second attempt. Watching the drama is enough to convert R’s depressive energy into mere indifference and apathy, accompanied by an ongoing suicidal shame at his own extreme stupidity.

Now he returns to the scene of his crime, as one possessed by a strange compulsion. He enters the house of murder, where workmen are replacing the wallpaper, white with lilac flowers. He engages them in conversation about the murder, suggesting perhaps he wants to rent this grisly place. They leave the rooms of death, and the workmen explain to the porter that he has complained about the blood being washed away, that he nearly broke the doorbell, and that he asked them to come to the police station. All very weird and rather incriminating one would think, but they just toss him out on the street. Chapter Six ends with R fully deciding, with a cold smile, to go to the police and end it.
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

Chapter Seven continues the endless stream of woe with the death of Marmeladov, the drunkard whom R had met in a bar. He has wandered in front of a carriage, suffering critical head and body injuries, and attracting a big crowd, which R proceeds to dominate by loudly offering to pay for medical treatment for his friend, and arranging for several men to carry him home. Alcohol, the evil lugubricant of the Russian world, has sadly greased the slippery path of this family to their own hell. The wife, Katerina Ivanovna, is musing to her poor children about how she married for love and stupidly spurned better offers, only to find her heartthrob was a wastrel and drunkard, when suddenly she is greeted by the shock of her dying husband, killed by his own drunken stupidity, and dumped on her door by Raskolnikov.
Dostoyevsky uses this clash between the hardworking wife and the alcoholic husband as part of his crusade against the extreme harm that drinking causes to Russian life. Mrs Marmeladov clears the crowd who have barged into her tiny rooms to gawk at the dying man. Dostoyevsky continually presents acutely insightful psychological comments. Here he mentions the strange inner feeling of satisfaction which may be observed in the presence of a sudden accident, even in those nearest and dearest to the victim.
The cruel and heartless response of the landlady is to suggest they take Marmeladov to hospital, even though it seems clear he has no prospect of recovery, prompting bickering with the bereaved wife who just asks that her husband be allowed to die in peace, amidst her cursed life.
The sadness of a drunkard dying before his own wife and children is unspeakable, presenting a stern morality tale. The doctor and priest enter, the one confirming the fatal prognosis and the other offering the consolation of religion in the midst of senseless cruel death and despair. And then, compounding the misery, Marmeladov’s prostitute daughter Sonia rushes in, breathless from running, decked out in her gutter finery. The tableau of squalor is complete when the wife remarks to the priest that "God is merciful, but not to us."
Now we find a conversation about one of my most persistent concerns, the hypocritical theology of forgiveness. The priest chides the wife for her bitter recrimination about her wastrel husband drinking away all the family money, saying not to forgive is a sin. This is a line that the church has used to bless all manner of evil, contrary to the Biblical message that forgiveness should be conditional upon repentance, even while the love of God is unconditional. Why should Katerina forgive her husband after all the suffering he has caused her?
And then the final horror, Marmeladov, in his death agony, for the first time sees his daughter dressed up for whoring, a profession she entered because of his inability to provide for the family. He falls to the floor as he asks her forgiveness, and dies in her arms.
The wife is relieved, although she too is dying, of tuberculosis, and turns the conversation to the perfunctory problem of food for the children. Raskolnikov gives her twenty roubles.
Dostoyevsky then likens R’s feelings to his own intense experience of being pardoned when in front of the firing squad: “He walked down slowly and deliberately, feverish but not conscious of it, entirely absorbed in a new overwhelming sensation of life and strength that surged up suddenly within him. This sensation might be compared to that of a man condemned to death who has suddenly been pardoned.”
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Re: Crime and Punishment - Part 2

The show of compassion toward Marmeladov has not erased the extreme stain of guilt in Raskolnikov’s heart. He is able to create an impression of benevolence for the family, but it is a sham. Leaving the house of death he immediately runs out to the spot where the woman tried to jump off the bridge, again contemplating killing himself. But he is such a vacillator that he forgets this intent and instead wrestles like Hamlet with whether it is stronger to be or not to be. Had his life died with the old woman he killed in cold blood? Any normal standards of decency would say yes. But R is determined to put it behind him.

So R turns up at Razumihin’s housewarming party, only to tell the drunk host he is too weak to come in. Razumihin strangely leaves his own party to accompany R home, explaining he wants to try to work out if R is mad. Arriving home, they find R’s mother and sister waiting. R had completely forgotten they had promised to come. They are aghast at the news of R’s decline in mental health, especially as he ignores them when they rush to embrace him.

End of Part Two.
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