Dreams; We’ve all had them. Good dreams, bad dreams, weird dreams… It’s just a natural part of life, right? We eat, we sleep, and we dream. But, do you ever feel that these dreams, may be trying to tell us something more? That there’s some sort of deeper meaning? In the real world it’s debatable. But, in literature, it’s almost a guarantee, especially with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.
It’s an all-time classic, poverty-stricken student, Raskolnikov, murders a little old lady (Alyona Ivanovna) and tries to not have a psychotic breakdown (Rather unsuccessfully, I might add).
Like all human beings, however, Raskolnikov has dreams too; four to be specific. So like any poorly written crime show, we’re going to go in the mind of Raskolnikov, and see what his dreams can tell us about the his mental state.
The first dream Raskolnikov has takes place shortly before he murders the old lady. In it, Raskolnikov is a kid and walking through town with his father when they notice this asshole beating this poor, old horse to death.
“Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything they could come across—whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.” (Source A: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; Pt.I, Ch. 5: Pg. 62) Raskolnikov naturally tries to help, but cannot because he has a scrawny kid body and the drunk dude (Mikolka) beats the horse to death.
These two figures (the kid Raskolnikov and Mikolka) represent the two halves of Raskolnikov who are conflicted about the murder. His innocent side who wants to save the horse (which represents the old lady) is helpless to watch the cruel side of Raskolnikov take over, and watch helplessly as things spiral out of control. This is even further supported by what he exclaims as he wakes up: ‘Can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open… that I shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble; hide, all spattered in the blood… with the axe…. Good God, can it be?’ (Source A: Pt. I, Ch. 5: Pg. 63)
The second dream occurs shortly after Raskolnikov has already committed the murder. He dreams that the police officer who interrogated him on the murder of the old lady (Ilya Petrovich) is outside his apartment beating his landlady as she cries out in agony. Raskolnikov is confused and unable to understand why Petrovich is beating her. “Ilya Petrovitch here and beating the landlady! He is kicking her, banging her head against the steps—that’s clear, that can be told from the sounds, from the cries and the thuds.” (Source A: Pt. II, Ch. 2: Pg. 121) This represents his first sign of guilt at the murder of the old lady, despite the two killings being completely opposite, with one being loud and drawn out, and the other being quiet and quick. “Raskolnikov is not able to comprehend the beating in the dream or even his own murder.”(Source B: Arlesha96, Raskolnikov’s dreams symbolizing crime in Crime and Punishment)
After Raskolnikov is accused of the murder, he then faints and becomes terribly ill. During this time he has his third and final dream before he confesses. In it he returns to the old lady’s place where Raskolnikov murdered her and tries, to do so again. Instead of crumpling like a tin can however, she just laughs after Raskolnikov strikes her with the axe. The laughter only grows louder as Raskolnikov repeatedly strike her. “He was overcome with frenzy and he began hitting the old woman on the head with all his force, but at every blow of the axe the laughter and whispering from the bedroom grew louder and the old woman was simply shaking with mirth.”(Source A: Pt. III, Ch. 6: Pg. 287) She has become the physical embodiment of Raskolnikov’s consciousness and will not cease to torment him until the murder is resolved. “The fact…is,in actuality,the growing realization that psychologically Raskolnikov cannot endure the effects of the murder.” (Source C: Ruth Mortimer, Readings on Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Ch. 2 ‘Crime and Punishment’: Pg. 73) Until he confesses Raskolnikov will never be free from the guilt.
Finally we come to our fourth and final dream. In it (Raskolnikov) “He dreamt that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen.” (Source A: Epilogue, Ch. 2: Pg. 552) All but these ‘chosen’ were blessed with superior intelligence and complete belief in their actions. No one could agree on anything, men waged senseless wars, and the world fell into chaos. This final dream represents a meaningful change for Raskolnikov. He begins to accept humanity again. He no longer sees being superior as a good thing, as those who are, do nothing but ‘wage senseless wars’ against people who don’t deserve it. “…the chosen people are not the rationalists, the frustrated victims of the plague, but the quiet people like Sonia.” (Source C: Ch. 2 ‘Crime and Punishment’: Pg. 74)
So, there you have it. A crazy murderer has crazy dreams. Who would have guessed? But, at least it’s useful for examining Raskolnikov’s mental state (or if you want to watch a splatter film). So next time you have a crazy dream, just be glad you’re not a crazy axe murderer. If you’re not, of course.