The biggest obstacle in literary criticism is the reader’s inability to know for sure the author’s mind. As far as we know, the author’s intentions could have been completely opposed to the general analysis. For this reason, conflicting opinions abound and controversy rages over issues that the author most likely never intended as such. In his Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky added an epilogue to conclude the novel. In the previous chapter, Raskolnikov, the protagonist, confesses and the police arrest him for murder. Many critics believe that this is an adequate ending and that the epilogue is completely unnecessary, while others argue that the epilogue is very necessary, as it alludes to Raskolnikov’s redemption and resurrection. Crime and Punishment is a Christian novel, with religious overtones and overtones throughout, like Sonya’s reading of the story of Lazarus, which parallels Raskolnikov’s story. However, the novel also loosely follows the structure and content of Greek tragedy, and this coexistence of the themes of Christian redemption and resurrection and the tragic themes of Oedipus the King creates a complex work that cannot be considered from a single perspective. The epilogue is extremely necessary for the conclusion of Crime and Punishment, as it allows for the further development of Raskolnikov’s character and gives it another dimension. He’s not just the insane, insane ax killer whose guilt and depravity eat him until he confesses. It seems so at the end of the final chapter. But with the addition of the epilogue, Rodion Raskolnikov begins the path of resurrection, towards which he did not seem inclined at the beginning of the novel. Without the epilogue, Raskolnikov would remain a less complex character, unable to repent.
Many critics reject the epilogue because they cannot accept the moral regeneration it promises. According to Lev Shestov, Raskolnikov’s only crime was to believe that he was unable to break the law and that his tragedy was not his fault and folly, but rather the “impossibility of starting a new and different life” (71-72). The whole novel moves towards a conversion or resurrection, especially and obviously from the appearance of the biblical story of Lazarus, read by the prostitute Sonya, which is based on Mary Magdalene. Dostoevsky did not choose Lazarus at random. He chose Lazarus because the story is a subtle reminder of Raskolnikov’s possibility of redemption, of being reborn after repenting of his sins. This resurrection theme is prominent throughout the novel, and to ignore this theme is to ignore a huge part of Dostoevsky’s significance. Yes, this is a novel about a sociopath’s inner psyche and exploring guilt, but it’s also about realizing one’s sins and repenting for them.
Edward Wasiolek raises a more valid argument in that he believes that Dostoevsky has not provided his readers with any evidence that Raskolnikov has sufficient spiritual awareness to contradict his theories put forward in his essay “On Crime” or to follow Sonya’s spiritual direction. This is a valid point, and it would be correct, were it not for the abundance of examples by Raskolnikov starting the conversion. He is not reborn spontaneously, as Wasiolek wanted to believe, but rather after a wealth of experiences that influenced him to that end. For example, whenever Raskolnikov helps the Marmelodovs, he does it for brief, but real, compassion. True, he almost instantly regrets his charity, but that reckless compassion suggests he doesn’t feel the declared superiority in his heart. This only resides in his mind. As such, his subsequent interactions with Sonya foster this tendency to recognize himself as a man on the same plane of existence as those he once regarded as inferior. Raskolnikov progresses slowly, sometimes allowing compassion to infiltrate his mind, initiating his conversion, his resurrection. When he realizes his humanity, he becomes more aware of his guilt. This indicates that he is not completely gone, that he can recover from the madness that possessed him. Robert Louis Jackson notes that Raskolnikov’s behavior goes through two distinct phases: first he shows great sympathy and compassion for those who need it and immediately, without thinking, takes measures to alleviate their suffering, and later he feels disgust for betraying them. its intellectual principles, which do not allow sympathy towards such inferior and unworthy beings. However, that first natural inclination to help the needy betrays Raskolnikov’s humanity. His sense of compassion “endows his actions with a magnanimity that contrasts with the wickedness of his plan and the cruelty of his crime” (Matual, 28).
Furthermore, Raskolnikov was never a cold-blooded killer. His mind was convinced of his superiority, but in contemplating the murder he was disgusted, rejected. He looked for any excuse to give up the task, but when what he perceived as a sign from the universe he indicated that he had to kill Alyona Ivanovna, he was filled with repugnance at the prospect of taking someone’s life. He never lost his doubts, nor his repugnance for the deed, and continued to devour him until he confessed at the end of the novel. Raskolnikov’s compassion for the poor and oppressed, his repulsion for murder, and his memories of childhood innocence and piety provide a basis for his resurrection in the epilogue. Acts of compassion “represent only the potential for reborn” and “something more powerful is required to lift him from his spiritual torpor and lead him to the events of the epilogue” (Matual, 30). To finish the novel after the confession means to leave Raskolnikov without finishing his story. His transformation was only at the beginning and only through his experiences in the Siberian prison will he be able to continue the conversion. Only after a long period of defiance in prison, Raskolnikov gives in to his human side and responds to Sonya’s love. He takes the Bible out from under his pillow and reads once more about Lazarus, who he is reborn, just like him. Here Raskolnikov finally accepts his time in prison as catharsis of him, being redeemed and moving on to a new life. Raskolnikov is not just an evil and heartless person. Her repugnance for her crime, her compassion for others, and her confession all suggested possible redemption. With confession, he is just beginning the path of conversion, and the epilogue is absolutely necessary to see if he will accept the consequences of his actions and will be reborn or he will reject them and retreat into madness and depravity once again.
Furthermore, the novel’s many facets and intertwined stories all point directly to the epilogue. The numerical reasons are prevalent, and are left unfinished at the end of the novel, but with the insertion of the epilogue they conclude masterfully. For example, the number nine recurs throughout the novel when it comes to time. Crime and Punishment covers three nine-month periods: “1) from the genesis of the crime to its commission, 2) from confession to trial and travel to Siberia, and 3) from the beginning of Raskolnikov’s exile to the moment he embraces Sonia and a new life begins for him [… ] It takes nine months for the crime to be “hatched”, nine months for the punishment to begin and another nine months for Raskolnikov to be reborn in the epilogue “(Matuale 32). Clearly, Dostoevsky was thinking about the time of birth, as each nine-month segment leads to the birth of something. First, Raskolnikov’s terrible plot is carried through, carried through and born , if you want. Secondly, Raskolnikov confesses and begins his transformation, which results in his release in Siberia, where his final cycle begins. After nine months, he is reborn, allowing Sonya to come into her life and repenting of her sins, feeling sincere regret for the atrocities she has committed. Raskolnikov’s mind is born first, causing the murders. His body is born according to him, after his liberation in Siberia. His heart and his soul were born last, bringing his body, mind and soul together and bringing his resurrection to a close. If Crime and Punishment had ended with Raskolnikov’s confession, there would have been a total and total lack of closure. There would remain uncertainty about his conversion and the consequences of his actions. Sometimes leaving the reader with doubt at the end of a novel is a useful and pleasant conclusion, but not with doubts about the guiding questions of the novel. Dostoevsky masterfully concluded Crime and Punishment in a way that answered all these questions, yet still leaves the reader wondering what form Raskolnikov’s new life with Sonya would take.
Another point to consider is the structure of Crime and Punishment. It parallels the Greek tragedy and also the story of Lazarus. The concept of destiny, which has a pagan connotation, and the concept of God’s will, strangely, are not in conflict with each other. They coexist, leaving the reader to interpret events as they please, perhaps considering divine intervention, perhaps considering coincidences. Depending on the reader’s point of view, interpretations may vary. For example, considering Christianity and the story of Lazarus, the novel is quite unfinished without the inclusion of the epilogue. Raskolnikov’s true transformation would remain in doubt and the parallels between Lazarus and Raskolnikov would abruptly end. Dostoevsky included Lazarus for a reason, and thus he would never leave the conclusion of Raskolnikov’s story incomplete. He has planned the epilogue to conclude this plot and has united the destinies of Lazarus and Raskolnikov. Pagan destiny is similar to the belief in predestination, as God already knows what will happen. Even from a pagan perspective, the epilogue is necessary to provide knowledge of Raskolnikov’s transformation and new life and, ultimately, of his fate.
Although the epilogue of Crime and Punishment strikes many critics as heavy and unnecessary, it is an important component and essential conclusion to the novel. The objections raised lack solid ground, as Raskolnikov did not spontaneously achieve repentance and redemption, but had the potential to do so throughout his life. In fact, the presence of good and compassion within him provides his character with depth and another level of complexity, making every decision that much more difficult. Because her mind and his heart are at odds with each other, each surfaces at different points in the novel, expressing disgust, revulsion, or contempt for the other. This drives him crazy and eventually his compassion beats his superiority and prompts him to confess. The epilogue gives Raskolnikov another dimension, his ability to do good, as he repents of his sins and becomes a new man. The epilogue is inevitable, the accumulation of all previous events that culminate in Raskolnikov’s transformation.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and punishment. New York: Bantam Dell, a division of Random House, Inc., 1866.
Jackson, Robert Louis. “Philosophical Pros and Cons in the First Part of Crime and Punishment”, Twentieth Century Interpretations of Crime and Punishment. Eaglewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1974. p. 27.
Matual, David. “In defense of the epilogue of crime and punishment”. EBSCO Publishing, 2002. 26-34.
Shestov, lev. Dostoevsky I Nitshe. Berlin: Skify, 1923. 71-72.
Wasiolek, Edward. “On the structure of crime and punishment”. PMLA 74, 1959: 135.
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