Academic journal article Genders

Raskolnikova: Rodion Romanovich's Struggle with the Woman Within

Academic journal article Genders

Raskolnikova: Rodion Romanovich's Struggle with the Woman Within

Article excerpt

[1] Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov's delirium-filled wanderings about Saint Petersburg and his subsequent encounters with various abused and anonymous young women are necessary catalysts to his eventual self-discovery as well as paradigms for Crime and Punishment. The recurrence of nameless, poverty-stricken waifs throughout the novel creates an associative structure that forces Raskolnikov to identify with these women. Such identification prompts the self-reflection to which he eventually surrenders as his spiritual epiphany is achieved by the recognition of his female counterparts. The humiliating and victimizing experiences of these women mirror his own desperation and helplessness. Dostoevsky's presentation of women as victims creates a paradigm of social abuses that illustrate my main argument: Raskolnikov's struggle is against the feminine elements within himself. This is not a prescriptive feminist argument but an exploration prompted by Gary Rosenshield's summation that Dostoevsky "is always testing stereotypes" and as such opens themes such as gender and victimization to questioning (127).

[2] Dostoevsky's most famous novel, Crime and Punishment (1866), is the story of an impoverished university student who brutally murders an old female pawnbroker, and then quite by accident, her sister as well. Raskolnikov has rationalized his crime with the defense that as he is destined for certain greatness he is doing society a favor by ridding the world of the parasitic moneylender. Once he has their blood on his hands, however, he sinks into illness, depression, and remorse. These feelings are intensified by Raskolnikov's distress at the news that his sister Dunya has accepted a proposal of marriage in order to save herself, their mother, and him from ruin. Meanwhile, Raskolnikov also befriends the drunkard father of Sonya Marmeladova who explains to him that his daughter has become a prostitute in order to support him, his wife and her children. Sonya's spiritual purity despite the squalor of her life drives Raskolnikov to confess his crime, after which she follows him to Siberia where he is serving his sentence at the conclusion of the novel.

[3] I frame the context of my argument with several responses to the discussion set forth in Nina Pelikan Straus's work, Dostoevsky and the Woman Question, specifically her chapter on Crime and Punishment. She explains first of all the binary created with Raskolnikov's name: "Raskolnikov, whose name means schism, soon discovers himself as a 'self created within a split--a being that can only conceptualize itself when it is mirrored back to itself from the position of another's desire' [Lacan 5], namely women's" (22). I postulate that the "schism" indicated therein references the split between the mind and the body as they have been traditionally assigned to masculine and feminine elements respectively, or as Elizabeth Grosz's Volatile Bodies explains, "[t]he mind/body split is frequently correlated with the distinctions between reason and passion, sense and sensibility, outside and inside, self and other, depth and surface, reality and appearance, mechanism and vitalism, transcendence and immanence, temporality and spatiality, psychology and physiology, form and matter, and so on" (3). Grosz continues with a discussion of dualism as instituted by Descartes that assumes that "there are two distinct, mutually exclusive and mutually exhaustive substances, mind and body, each of which inhabits its own self-contained sphere" (6). This type of dualism dominates Raskolnikov's thinking at the outset of the novel as he denies any relation between himself and what he perceives is "outside" of himself. This split defines the sexual polarities that lead Raskolnikov to both identify with and resent the young women he encounters. While they symbolize the state of St. Petersburg society and the condition of the entire working class, their personal plight parallels that of the young man struggling to come to terms with his world, his self, his desires, and more importantly, his shortcomings. …

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