07 July 2009

Final Words in Crime and Punishment – Gradual Progression

In the final paragraph of the second chapter of the Epilogue in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the word gradual is used twice as well as the phrase slow progress. This is in stark contrast with the character of Raskolnikov throughout the rest of the novel. And as these instances occur at the end of the novel, as that parting shot, within them lies a lesson, I think.

Raskolnikov has, right up until the very point in the novel where he picked up the Bible of his own accord and began to read, attempted to gain through immediate exercise of some sort. He believed that killing the pawnbroker would allow him to achieve untold ends – ends which it appears he had not really considered or which the narrator does not see fit to inform the reader of. Raskolnikov thought that the act and his audacity of positively undertaking it would propel him forward and that in an instant. What follows his act concerns five parts of the novel – his unwillingness to realize that he has not been propelled forward instantly through his act, his crime. His desire of instantaneously propelling himself forward has turned out to be a lie.

His attempts after the double murder reflect his desire for instantaneous results; he wishes to reach some sort of conclusion to his ordeal, as long as he is not called to task for his actions (and indeed for his thoughts, his delusions concerning his own station in life). His encounters with Zametov, Zosimov, and most importantly Porfiry, all either come from or contain within them some attempt to satisfactorily and instantaneously conclude the episode of the double murder.

Yet Porfiry foreshadows the final paragraph of the novel when he informs Raskolnikov (on two different occasions) that over the course of time, this murderer will turn himself in. That Porfiry has moved on before Raskolnikov has volunteered his confession furthers the proof of the inevitability of the confession – Porfiry does not need to be present when proved correct, the fact remains that he is. Gradually, over time, he is proved right.

As a theme which carries over to today, I think it is clear that the message of “gradual renewal”, “gradual regeneration”, and “slow progress from one world to another” is one which must be heard (465). We as a society are bombarded by things which we are told are “crises”. We are then told that immediate actions must be taken, lest what is already in a state of “crisis” become something beyond crisis – whatever that might be. But if we lift the panic-inducing diction of propaganda, we might ask just where the quick fix might land us. Might the quick fix just land us in some gaol? Might we learn that we have lost our national soul to the quick fix? Have we already?

Work Cited – Dostoevsky, Feodor. Crime and Punishment. Ed. George Gibian. New York: Norton, 1964.

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