Suffer or Suicide: Only Great Men Take the Right Path Essay
In the novel Crime and Punishment, Feodor Dostoevsky illustrates how sinners have a choice to either suffer and face the consequences of their actions, or escape the pain by ending their suffering and ultimately ending their lives. While both Raskolnikov and Svidrigylov are sinners, Raskolnikov’s mental and physical sufferings lead him to ultimately choose to suffer and hope for redemption, whereas Svidrigylov decides to take his life, stopping his incoming suffering.
Through his depiction of Raskolnikov and Svidrigylov’s sins and sufferings, along with their decisions to either bear it or end it, Dostoevsky shows that a person’s suffering can ultimately guide them to the path of redemption. Suffering is an inescapable experience that every human being must go through in order to live a fulfilled life. Dostoevsky writes, “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth” (224).
He is trying to make a statement that one cannot live life without suffering, and all those that avoid it are weak and ultimately not fit for true living. Dostoevsky’s perspective on suicide is apparent as he writes about the two similar suicides in the novel, one of a lady who “flung herself into the canal” (144), but was unsuccessful in her attempt, and then Svidrigylov’s suicide, which was successful. Also depicting how some sufferings are worse than others, Dostoevsky makes it clear that although one may be suffering, there is always a worse alternative, and the longer one withstands the suffering, the better the redemption.
The suffering of guilt is less than the suffering of death, the suffering of prostitution is less than the suffering of starvation, and the suffering of confessing is less than the suffering of not confessing. From the first page of the novel, Raskolnikov is depicted as a morbid and dark character, hating and separating himself from all the components of his life. Dostoevsky confirms this by stating that Raskolnikov has “cut himself off from everybody and withdrawn so completely into himself that he now shrank from every kind of contact, “He [is] crushingly poor, but e no longer [feels] the oppression of his poverty” (1). Even before committing the murder, he already feels disgust for the life that he has chosen to live. Also, the suffering he feels from simply thinking about the idea of the murder, not actually committing it, overcomes the suffering he feels from being so poor, which links back to the way Dostoevsky shows how some sufferings are lesser, or more, than others. In a way, Raskolnikov is acting as if he had no choice but to suffer; that God had put him there as a sort of punishment, as if he deserves better because he finds himself much more superior to those around him.
Noting this, it is just to say that the murder itself might have nothing to do with Raskolnikov’s suffering, and that it is due to something else. Regardless, his suffering causes him to become delirious, and ultimately gives him the ability to rationalize the murder. Alongside that, Raskolnikov’s sufferings make him paranoid to the extent where he is counting every step from his apartment to Alena’s apartment, which paints a picture of incomplete planning and how he is bothered by the loathsomeness and ugliness of the idea of the crime.
The constant disgust is something that Raskolnikov cannot seem to get rid of, no matter how beautiful something seems. His torment is furthered as he attempts to be someone he is not, a hardened, cold criminal. Illustrating this, Dostoevsky describes Raskolnikov walking through the streets of St. Petersburg, when a “feeling of infinite loathing… [Begins] to burden and torment him… [Which] now reached such a pitch that he did not know what to do with himself in his anguish” (6). Through the suffering, a schism is formed between Raskolnikov’s thoughts and actions.
As soon as he gives money to Marmeladov’s family upon meeting them, he immediately regrets it and questions why he even bothered to do it in the first place, “…He [repents] his action and almost turned back. ‘What a stupid thing to do’, he thought” (22). His schism and regret also come into play after he tries to help a young girl escape from a drunken man that was coming on to her, but he begins to question himself after trying to help the girl, “Why did I take it on myself to interfere? [Is] it for me to try to help? Have I any right to help?
Let them eat one another alive- what is it to me? And how [dare] I give away those twenty copecks? [Are] they mine to give? ” (43). His constant self-doubt leads him to question whether everything is worth it, if the murder is worth committing and if it’s worth living, knowing he is a killer. Perpetual thoughts of suicide are always lingering in Raskolnikov’s mind, yet he never finds the will or passion to actually do it. Even when he witnesses an attempted suicide, he looks on “with a strange feeling of indifference and detachment.
Now he felt repelled. ” (145). The suffering takes major tolls on Raskolnikov psychologically, physically and emotionally. As Svidrigylov’s suffering inches towards him by the end of the novel, he finds that living life becomes increasingly more and more unbearable. He is described as “the most shallow and worthless scoundrel on he face of the earth” (398). After realizing that, Dunya, the girl he loves, will never love him no matter what or how hard he tries, there is a shift in his demeanor, “an instant of terrible, silent struggle” (420).
It is at this point when Svidrigylov feels the suffering at its worst, and he decides that he cannot even fathom what is to come. As Dostoevsky describes Svidrigylov’s final hours of suffering and torment, there is a noticeable change in the way everything is being described. The diction is different from what was being used early in the novel, and suddenly it seems as though Svidrigylov’s environment and thoughts have become more or less exactly the same as Raskolnikov’s.
Sitting in solitude as he comes to the decision to commit suicide, Svidrigylov becomes extremely paranoid in his “cramped and stuffy room” (425); he notices “a mouse [scratching] somewhere in a corner” (427), and a “strange incessant whispering” (426). This change in Svidrigylov’s portrayal is Dostoevsky’s way of clearly depicting just how intense and unbearable a man’s suffering can become, and the decision to bear it all and hope for redemption in the end is one only a great man can make.
Dostoevsky creates Svidrigylov’s character to be a doppelganger of Raskolnikov; they are both sinners as Svidrigylov indirectly murdered his ex-wife, a long with an old servant and a deaf girl. They are practically identical at certain points for the book. When they first meet, Svidrigylov tells Raskolnikov, “We are kindred spirits” (245), yet there is one thing setting them apart: Raskolnikov takes the suffering that God and society has given him, and Svidrigylov cannot bear to even consider the thought of doing so, and kills himself.
Through Svidrigylov, Dostoevsky depicts the wrong, almost immoral path to take when one is faced with suffering. As the novel moves on, Raskolnikov seems to adapt to his sufferings, and does not intend to seek redemption in them until Sonya begs him to confess about the murder. As he is doing so, he gains a sense of redemption, although not completely sorry for what he had done, and realizes that “with what infinite love he would now expiate all [of Sonya’s] sufferings” (464).
During his seven years in prison, he could feel how he is a “renewal of a man, of his gradual regeneration” (467), all because, according to Dostoevsky, he had gone through the suffering brought upon by his sins. The foil between Raskolnikov’s actions and decisions, and Svidrigylov’s allow Dostoevsky to demonstrate the power of suffering and the redemption it leads to. The profoundness of the feeling of suffering allows a person to truly appreciate who they are able to be, in the life that they have been graced with.