“Suffering and Pain are always obligatory for a broad consciousness and a deep heart. Truly great men, I think, must feel great sorrow in this world” (264). In Crime and Punishment almost all the characters are challenged with the problem of suffering. Although suffering is awful, why does Dostoevsky chose to convey human suffering as a good thing? Dostoevsky shows that through submission and love, suffering leads to purification and redemption.
Dostoevsky provides a very accurate portrayal of a miserable family in poverty. The first member to be introduced of an impoverished family is Marmeladov, who tries delaying going home to deal with his wife after drinking too much. However, Marmeladov’s aim is actually not to avoid suffering or pain, “for I thirst not for joy, but for sorrow and tears!” (23). Marmeladov seems to accept suffering, but by treating it as an emotional occurrence, he is refusing to let it change him. Even realizing that his little girl became a prostitute to help her family, he still continues to waste money drinking, praying that God will “judge and forgive all!” (23).
His wife Katerina also suffers substantially, but instead of suffering from an alcohol addiction, she suffers from the exhausting desire to take care of her family, “Katerina Ivanovna, who could not bear uncleanliness, preferred to wear herself out at night and beyond her strength, while everyone was asleep, so that the laundry would have time to dry on the line by morning and she could give them all clean things” (179).
Considering Katerina and her family are poor, cleanliness is not a very smart thing to sacrifice so much over. Similarly to Marmeladov, her suffering ends up killing her rather than bringing her purification or redemption since it is completely selfish and would only “satisfy her pride” (384).
In contrast to this poverty-stricken family, another character, Svidrigailov attempts to escape suffering since he devotes his life to the hobby of pleasure. As a “skirt-chaser”, he goes against moral code and breaks many rules pertaining love in order to avoid suffering. He says, “I had enough swinishness in my soul, and honesty of a sort, to announce to her straight off that I could not be completely faithful to her.” (472). He tells his wife he can not be faithful to her since he would suffer with boredom of one partner. Instead of being ashamed of having seduced many poor girls, he makes it seem like a good thing, telling Raskolnikov all about his “crude frankness” (472).
Although he continuously chases after pleasure, he still says he suffers from being a “gloomy, boring man” (479). Later, in his conflict with Dunya, he realizes his attempt to attain pleasure will fail. Instead of living with the pain of knowing she rejected him and never loved him, he chooses to end all his suffering at once and commit suicide.
about the individuals who want to suffer? One character who appears to intentionally suffer is Nikolai, who turns himself in and confesses for Raskolnikov’s crime. However, it seems as if he is not confessing to protect someone else, “Not for the sake of someone, but simply, ‘the need for suffering’; to embrace suffering” (455). The idea of suffering makes Nikolai accept suffering whenever he can find it, even if it does not rightly belong to him. On the other hand, he almost destroys Raskolnikov’s chance to receive redemption through confession, since he is so determined to take upon the suffering that does not belong to him.
Through Nikolai, Dostoevsky indicates that an honorable desire to suffer for another should be dependent on suffering actually given to the one who deserves it. One should bear their own cross and not steal someone else’s. Just like Nikolai, Dunya also illustrates a willingness to submit to suffering. In the beginning of the novel, Raskolnikov sees that her choice to marry Luzhin was a big mistake. Dunya was basically going to sell herself to Luzhin so she can help her brother financially. Just like how Nikolai can not rightly take Raskolnikov’s suffering, Dunya cannot agree to suffer to cover up Raskolnikov’s suffering.
As Svidrigailov says, “She would undoubtedly have been among those who suffered martyrdom, and would have smiled, of course, while her breast was burned with red-hot iron tongs. She would have chosen it on purpose…She’s thirsting just for that, and demands to endure some torment for someone without delay” (475). She finally learns to avoid this bad habit when she refuses Svidrigailov, even though he threatened her with information that could hurt Raskolnikov. Dunya’s suffering comes from recognizing that sometimes there is no possible way to sacrifice for others.
On the other hand, Sonya shows the best example of how to suffer well. Unlike characters like Marmeladov, Katerina, or Nikolai, Sonya’s suffering is not selfish. She was born into a state of suffering. No matter how brutal the world is to her, Sonya still loves openly and selflessly with “some sort of insatiable compassion” towards others (318). Being an impoverished prostitute, Sonya is one of society’s most powerless members and arguably the most miserable character of the novel, but she still manages to put others’ suffering before her own. She says to Raskolnikov, “No one, no one in the whole world, is unhappier than you are now!” (412).
Moreover, despite her misery, she never loses trust. When Raskolnikov asks her to read the passage about Lazarus, Sonya reads the part where Mary confesses her faith in Jesus “exactly as if she herself were confessing it for all to hear” (327). At the end of the novel when she goes with Raskolnikov to Siberia, she is even loved by all those there because of her kindness and care for them.
Ultimately, Sonya is the best example of suffering in the novel since she uses suffering as an opportunity for sacrificial love to help others and lessen their suffering.
Since Dostoevsky chooses to show Sonya’s suffering as the most ideal, the character of Raskolnikov is Dostoevsky’s best portrayal of the typical approach to human suffering. Despite the fact that he at first opposes its weight on his life, throughout the novel it gradually wears him out until he is eager to acknowledge that the only way to achieving new life is through pain. Raskolnikov lives his life in denial of suffering. He has this idea that as long as you are an “extraordinary” man, the regular laws and rules do not apply. The only difference between the extraordinary man and every other person is his ability “to allow his conscience to step over certain obstacles” (259).
However, when he tries to justify his murder with this idea, his theory about himself was proven wrong since he suffers from guilt and is constantly tormented, and is along these lines unfit to “step over without hesitation” (491). His resulting suffering is even obvious to Porfiry, who says that if a criminal has a conscience, he “can suffer, if he acknowledges his error. It’s a punishment for him–on top of hard labor” (264). Even when he is protected from his crime being revealed, his conscience still torments him telling him he has sinned.
The interesting thing about Raskolnikov is that even after he confessed his crime and volunteered in Siberia, his actions have not yet affected his heart. While one would feel that the choice to confess to the police would be the hardest part, and the action which leads to redemption from sin, in prison Raskolnikov is still the same bitter man as before.
He still has no feeling of redemption and while pondering all his past actions, he “did not find them at all as stupid and hideous as they had seemed to him once” (544). Dostoevsky turns the readers’ expectations and forces them to recognize that submission to suffering is not sufficient to change. Instead, Raskolnikov appears the most depraved: “constantly sullen, taciturn, and even almost uninterested” in talking about his family (541). He is even rude to Sonya, who came to his prison to help take care of him.
Raskolnikov is proof that a human being can submit to suffering outwardly, but remains resistant to its life-giving effects due to an unrepentant and arrogant attitude. At the very end of the novel, Sonya’s love saves him. What ultimately drives Raskolnikov to accept suffering is described as a resurrection caused by his adoration for Sonya, “the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other” (549).
Suffering can drive the human heart to do numerous things, but what brings Raskolnikov a new life is not to redeem his suffering by confessing his sin, and rather his true love for Sonya. Raskolnikov learns that love can make you suffer a lot, but that suffering is not there to be avoided as quickly as possible, but to rather be accepted and embraced for its purifying qualities. “So much unbearable suffering and so much infinite happiness”, Raskolnikov’s new life comes from the power of Sonya’s love.
Eventually, all the characters in Crime and Punishment show how one’s suffering can lead to purification and new life through submission and and motivation of love. While there are characters like Svidrigailov, who try to avoid suffering, or Katerina and Dunya who pursue it for the wrong reasons, Dostoevsky’s main focus is on Sonya and Raskolnikov who very clearly personify the correct approach of submitting to one’s suffering.
Dostoevsky shows how immense suffering can either destroy or bring new life and brings all the characters together. Dostoevsky’s main idea here is to introduce suffering as the methods through which God attempts to convey new life to human kind, especially how Raskolnikov is connected with Lazarus.