Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sadism Dostoevsky Style

June's book fell into the classics realm as we explored Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. In spite of the fact that I've read this book at least three times prior to this reading, it's always a good read, and as we discussed to today, there's always something new that I can get out of a reading. In the past I had read this book in the context of a class, so it was interesting to get a wide variety of perspectives from readers who were reading the text in a different setting. By they way, we welcomed three new visitors who were willing to get down with a little Dostoevsky, and after hearing their responses to what can be a challenging or at the least a dense read, I hope they make our Saturday gatherings a regular event. One of the thematic issues we addressed was that of redemption. As I stated earlier, I had read this book previously for a couple of classes, and as one of them was a Faith in Literature class, the concept of redemption was explored in great detail. The question that we threw around today is "At the end of the novel is Raskolnikov redeemed?". One participant posed the question that since Raskolnikov never actually expresses remorse for having murdered the pawnbroker and her sister, can be actually be redeemed because he doesn't openly repent. This theory brings about a wonderful question for thought, does one have to verbally, and here I use the word verbally to encompass both actual spoken language as well as internal thoughts and perspectives provided by the narrator, profess repentance in order to be redeemed? However, Dostoevsky appears to support the idea of redemption for Rodya as he serves his time in the Siberian prison where he opens the Bible Sonya gives him and reads the story of Lazarus. Lazarus was resurrected from the dead by Jesus, and one could argue that Raskolnikov is resurrected by Sonya and her presence in his life. To a person who has read the text, it isn't a long shot to say that Rodya was dead in the spiritual and emotional sense until Sonya comes into his life, and it is through her tireless perseverance that he is afforded the opportunity to be resurrected and join the world of the living. However, this concept brings about another topic of discussion with regard to Sonya. The question posed was why does she seemingly waste her time on Raskolnikov, who by all accounts is not the most approachable or lovable character?

Sonya herself proves an interesting study when thinking about how to best answer this question. Sonya has been forced into prostitution due to her family's economic hardship. However, she holds her faith close in spite of her fallen status, and it is this faith that leads her to embrace Raskolnikov despite his misanthropic nature. She sees something in him that is worthwhile and worth saving. In the end, it seems that her faith both in God and in Rodya is rewarded as it can be argued that the Raskolnikov we see at the end is not the same one we met in the first chapter. If we're going to talk about faith in this novel, we must further address the fact that Sonya is a prostitute. By society's standards, she is an outcast and and untouchable. In fact, when the Marmeladov family's landlady finds out about Sonya's occupation, she is put out of the house, and she can only visit her family in the dark of night when she can sneak into the house. In the Bible, we find countless examples of Jesus reaching out to those who were relegated the bottom rungs of society, and in fact, these are the people that Jesus often sought out. Therefore, it is ironically fitting that the prostitute is the one who has the greatest faith of all the characters in the book. A personal literary note here, last semester I reread Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. When we were discussing the book in class, I couldn't help but draw parallels between Maggie and Sonya. In Maggie, Maggie too is forced into prostitution due to economic need. However, Maggie falls into the fallen woman role that is often found in literature of the time period because she dies at the end. Often the fallen woman dies which can be seen as morality tale of sorts because the woman who deviates from societal norms and expectations cannot be successful and must be punished. However, Sonya, while undoubtedly suffering more than her fair share of trials, does in many ways emerge victorious because she leads Raskolnikov to redemption and a new life, definitely breaking the curse of the fallen woman in literature.

Yet another hotbed of discussion revolves around the idea that various levels of crimes exisit. While numerous characters in the novel commit various and sundry crimes, are some crimes worse that others or is a crime a crime? If one crime is in fact worse than another, how can we determine the continuum of crimes? This also leads into Raskolnikov's initial theory that some people, those he deems extraordinary, are entitled to commit crimes such as the murder of an usurper like the pawnbroker. Is Raskolnikov's theory grounded in a grain of truth? Are extraordinary people afforded liberties that the rest of us are not allowed? Raskolnikov can be seen as committing his crime as a test to determine if in fact he is an extraordinary man. However, since he cannot pull his crime off in the manner he envisioned and in fact is obviously tormented as a result of his act, one would theorize that he is as ordinary and flawed as the rest of society.

These are only a few of the themes and ideas we threw around in our discussion of the amazing literary work. In actuality, there is no way all the themes or questions that this book contains could be covered in a two hour meeting, but I think we covered a commendable amount of ground in our brief time together.


Travis said...

Just a few notes here. Raskolnikov does not actually ever read the story of Lazarus from the gospel. It is read to him, initially from the text and then incorrectly from memory, by Sonya in her apartment. In the end of the book Raskolnikov pulls the gospels out from under his pillow, looks at it, yet does not open it, he only recalls the reading of it by Sonya and says to himself, " Can her convictions not be my convictions now? Her feelings, her aspirations at least...".
Also, Sonya is drawn to Raskolnikov b/c his suffering is in her mind even greater than her own suffering, " No one, no one in the whole world is unhappier than you are now!", after which she says, "I'll follow you, I'll go wherever you go! Oh Lord! . . .Ah wretched me! Why didn't I know you before! Why didn't you come before? Oh Lord!". So it is, to me ,that Raskolnikov becomes a sort of Christ before Sonya, and she his disciple.

wordswordswords said...

Another thing we discussed that I found interesting was the difference in the translations that we used. Some of ya'll had better books, or should I say, books with more complete notations. These notes may've taken longer to get through (b/c of the added reading), but it seemed to have made for a thorough, more enjoyable reading. We'd never before discussed the differences in translation and/or the importance of footnotes and endnotes.

As for the Sonya/Raskolnikov question, I'm not sure that we can make the claim that Raskolnikov is Sonya's Christ figure. How does his suffering alleviate hers? Christ figures in literature always take on the suffering of others for the greater good of those others. Is this what Raskolnikov is doing at the novel's end? I dunno. And what exactly is he discipling Sonya in? Travis, I respect your knowledge of the novel (as well as your superior translation), but I have to disagree with you here.

Travis said...

My opinion is that Raskolnikov indirectly alleviates Sonya's suffering by showing her that there exists someone that suffers more than she does. There are a few references earlier in the book to the few options she has out of her current situation, don't quote me b/c it is too late to check them, but I believe they are either suicide or the madhouse/prison. Raskolnikovs revelation of the crime gives her a third, unforeseen option, that not only saves her, but resurrects her if you will. As far as what Raskolnikov is discipling her in, I've got nothing at the moment, only the way in which she faithfully follows him despite his cold responses to her. hollahollaholla