When reading the novel Crime And Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the reader depends upon a vast understanding of the various characters in the novel, in particular, the protagonist Raskolnikov. While most authors typically describe a character’s behavior and emotions directly through the words of a narrator, Dostoevsky chooses to indirectly reveal some of Raskolnikov’s character traits through conversations with other characters. One such character whom Dostoevsky uses for this purpose is Sonya, the prostitute daughter of the Marmelodovs.
In Part Five Chapter Four of the novel, Raskolnikov reveals to Sonya that he committed the murders of Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna. The conversation between the two characters both before and following this revelation exposes much about Raskolnikov’s qualities.
During the moments leading up to Raskolnikov’s confession of the murders to Sonya, Raskolnikov tries to explain what he has done in an exceedingly vague manner. At no point before the confession does Raskolnikov overtly say that it was he who killed Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna. Instead, Raskolnikov uneasily explains his knowledge of the murders to Sonya until she realizes that it was Raskolnikov: “’|| must be a great friend of his … if I know… “He did not want to… kill Lizaveta. He.. killed her by accident… He meant to kill the old woman…
when she was alone” (346). This passage shows the magnitude of Raskolnikov’s anxiety in confessing the murders to Sonya. This anxiety indicates that he does not wish to reveal to Sonya that he murdered the Ivanovna sisters. However, he promised Sonya beforehand that he would reveal to her who the murderer was. Therefore, he feels compelled to continue explaining out of respect to Sonya. This passage indicates that Raskolnikov cares deeply for Sonya in multiple aspects.
One of Raskolnikov’s utterances immediately after he confesses to Sonya also indicates that he was highly apprehensive in telling Sonya because he feared how she would react. Upon realizing that Raskolnikov is the murderer, Sonya flung her arms around Raskolnikov, to which he replied, “’How strange you are, Sonya! You put your arms around me and kiss m when I tell you that. You don’t know what you are doing'” (347). This shows that Raskolnikov does not expect Sonya to react in this way. He expects Sonya to disown him, which is a likely reason for his anxiety and apprehension.
After Raskolnikov explains to Sonya that it was him who committed the murders, Sonya demands to know his reasons for taking the lives of the Ivanovna sisters. Raskolnikov responds by giving a multitude of different reasons for committing the crimes. His first impulse is to tell Sonya that his only reason behind the murder was to take the money from Alyona. Sonya asks Raskolnikov why he committed the murders saying, “’And how could you, you, the man you are… bring yourself to this?… It can’t be true!’ ‘But it is. It was to rob her! Stop, Sonya!’ he answered wearily and almost with annoyance” (348). Soon after giving this explanation, he refutes it and gives an entirely different justification for killing Alyona and Lizaveta Ivanovna saying, “’I wanted to make myself a Napoleon, and that is why I killed her… Now do you understand?'” (350). In other words, Raskolnikov wanted to be a conqueror or someone of importance. This explanation correlates with the article, which he wrote after committing the murders explaining the two kinds of people in the world: Ordinary people, and extraordinary people who should have the right to do whatever they please. Raskolnikov’s third reason for killing the Ivanovna sisters is that he simply wanted to prove to himself that he was capable of doing such a thing. He explained this to Sonya saying the following: “how strange that not one single person passing through this nonsensical world has the courage, has ever had the courage, to seize it by the tail and fling it to the devil! …. I wanted to have the courage, and I killed… I only wanted to dare, Sonya, that was the only reason!” (353). Raskolnikov gives multiple explanations for his murders, and because he uses phrases such as “that was the only reason”, one cannot argue that it was a combination of all of the reasons he gives which drives him to commit the murders. Instead, it was Raskolnikov’s indecisiveness that leads him to commit his crimes. The conversation between Raskolnikov and Sonya during this chapter makes Raskolnikov’s indecisiveness apparent.
The author uses a conversation with other characters to confirm that a character has certain character traits. However, one might ask why the author does not simply take the time to add more descriptive passages which directly describe the character’s attributes. Doing so would allow the reader to have an understanding of a major character’s behavior before the character acts in a potentially confusing way.