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Analyzing Raskolnikov's Redemption in Crime and Punishment with Christian Symbols

Lucas is an online writer who has studied literature for years.

Crime and Punishment and Redemption

An inner dialectical conflict portrayed in seven parts, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, can also be arranged as a three-stage journey in which Raskolnikov commits the crime, faces psychological and eventual physical torment, and then achieves redemption.

In crafting this tripartite course, Dostoevsky sets Raskolnikov on a path toward redemption finalized in the epilogue, yet, Dostoevsky’s critics maintain that the epilogue is “unprepared for, weak, and disjointed” (Gibian 992). When put in the context of the novel’s Christian symbolism, however, it plays a critical role in consummating the tripartite redemptive arc of Raskolnikov.

Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky uses water and the story of Lazarus to emphasize the journey that Raskolnikov is on as he psychologically wrestles with the crimes that he commits. Water is an ever-present entity in St. Petersburg, with the Neva River and canals running throughout.

For Raskolnikov and his counterpart Svidrigailov, this water embodies the two-fold path one can take once one has entered into crime. As they cross the city’s bridges throughout the novel, both realize the role of water as “a way out” (Dostoevsky 170). In embodying death, the “dark water of the canal” fulfills its Biblical role originating from the Great Flood as a destructive, life-ending force (169). The water invites Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov, though only the latter commits suicide by jumping into it. Instead, Raskolnikov chooses the second path, “when he was standing over the river,” to confess his crimes to the police and obtain absolution (544).

The Chrisitan parallels in the notions of baptism, death, and rebirth are further emphasized in overt references to the Biblical story of Lazarus found in the Gospel of John. Raskolnikov does not meet a physical demise; instead, he succumbs to a psychological death from the mental anguish of his crime. “[Raskolnikov] could not endure” since he was not the “extraordinary man” that he surmises he is (544). While Raskolnikov’s experience echoes Lazarus’s resurrection, reading the Lazarus story itself plays an equally important role in his journey.

His genuine anguish about the gruesome murders he committed comes not from the premeditated killing of the cruel pawnbroker Alyona Ivanova but rather from the unexpected killing of Lizaveta. His single swing of the axe, which so swiftly killed Lizaveta, haunts him as it proves his crime was not based on rationality but emotion and passion.

When Sonya reads from Lizaveta’s Bible, Raskolnikov grapples with the futility of justifying his crime or the story of Lazarus through rationality, eventually leading him to confess his crimes to the police. To Dostoevsky, Lazarus is “the best exemplum of a human being resurrected to a new life”; through paralleling the Biblical story, Dostoevsky builds the novel toward the ultimate salvation of Raskolnikov when he accepts responsibility for his actions and embraces the faith that Sonya provides (Gibian 990).

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Original Russian cover of Crime and Punishment

Original Russian cover of Crime and Punishment

Given the prevalence and importance of Christian symbolism, the epilogue bears added significance as the end-point of Raskolnikov’s tripartite journey. The symbol of water and the Lazarus story add vitally yet subtle detail to the epilogue, which is a “culmination and juncture of the various strands of images,” as Gibian argues (992).

Dostoevsky symbolically brings the arc of the novel to a close, connecting Raskolnikov’s crime, considered in “seven hundred and thirty steps” near the “K----n Bridge,” to his final expiation “on the riverbank” (Dostoevsky 1, 548). This riverbank is not the “dark water” that espouses notions of suicide but rather the waters of rebirth that come through an acceptance of faith (169).

Through his cleansing, he is able to escape the nihilist thoughts that led him to murder Aloyana: “Instead of dialectics, there was life” (550). The new life Raskolnikov receives ends his story, as Dostoevsky tells it, showing the power of accepting faith and love.

crime-and-punishment-and-redemption-analyzing-christian-symbols

Without the epilogue, a critical third part of Raskolnikov’s journey would be lost, and so would Dostoevsky’s critique of the limits of rationality regarding nihilism or utopian socialism. Using Christian symbolism, he posits faith and love as alternatives to a rational “mathematical head,” which cannot contend with the intrinsic irrationality of human behavior (256).

In commenting on Chrisitan symbolism, Gibian likens Sonya to a Beatrice-like figure from the Divine Comedy, who leads her lover on a three-stage journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (Gibian 994). Dante’s journey also contends with the dialectical clash between reason and emotion, paralleling Raskolnikov’s rational crime, emotional punishment, and redemption through acceptance.

Bibliography

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.

Gibian, George. “Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment.” PMLA, vol. 70, no. 5, 1955, pp. 979–996. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/459881.

© 2022 Lucas Delille

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