Against ideas: On Crime and Punishment

I just finished teaching Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in my literature class, surely an endurance marathon for student and teacher alike. Perhaps this is what made the epilogue, which depicts Raskolnikov’s first step toward redemption (as mediated by the love of a good woman), such a let-down — after spending so much time in Raskolnikov’s twisted head, surely we deserved something more.

Yet the argument could also be made that the epilogue is totally superfluous, that everything has been decided by the time Raskolnikov finds himself compelled (in part by the “peer pressure” of Sonya) to confess his crime. We can already see Sonya’s dedication to him and her role in his redemption. We have verified Porfiry’s claim that the confession would take the police by surprise, leading us to trust his claim that the sentence will be merciful. And we also know that Raskolnikov is going to continue to be a total jerk about the whole thing for as long as humanly possible. What does the epilogue add, other than the sentimental satisfaction of learning that Dunya and Razumikhin get married?

Even more important, to me, is what the epilogue takes away, insofar as it attempts to narrate what is not narratable. Read the rest of this entry »