Chapter five of Crime and Punishment is the hardest to read — the one where the poor horse is beaten to death. It is a dark, brutally vivid premonition.
Just before the fateful day, Raskolnikov is walking around in fits of passion, unsure what he will do next. He lies down and sleeps and dreams. In the dream, he takes a sort of divine perspective, seeing through the eyes of an innocent child the horror of what he was about to do, experiencing the emotion and feeling the anger appropriate to such a senseless act of violence.
It is striking to me that he actually says aloud when he wakes,
“Oh, Lord! … Show me the way, and I will renounce this cursed … scheme of mine!’”p. 65
But it doesn’t work. He goes through with it.
Or does it work? In the end he isn’t lost. He is redeemed. He does the unthinkable, but God isn’t finished with him. He cried out for help and it didn’t come like he asked for, but it does come.
Here you see the contradiction that is Raskolnikov. He has the wherewithal to pray such a prayer, but he so soon turns and does what he does. In chapter 4, you see a similar contradiction in Raskolnikov. After reading the letter from his mother, he rages on behalf of his sister. He rages because his sister’s plan to help him will harm her. There is a good impulse there to defend his sister, but there’s more. In the same moment he is raging at the very idea that self-sacrifice is good. In his utilitarian ethics, self-sacrifice is foolish. The rage is at one and the same time good and bad.
I find it arresting how the narrator breaks in toward the end of chapter five and provides a prospective one could only have if you know how the story ends. It’s like he presses pause on the story and speaks directly to the reader.
Afterward, when he recalled this moment and everything that happened to him during these days, minute by minute, point by point, piece by piece, one circumstance always struck him as a superstitious occurrence, even though in essence it wasn’t all that unusual, but later it constantly seemed to be a kind of premonition of his fate. Namely: he could never understand or explain to himself why, so tired and worn out, when it would have been most advantageous for him to go home by the shortest, most direct route, instead he headed home across Haymarket Square, which was completely unnecessary.p. 66
You never know what will come from letting go and wandering along with those impulses that whisper so softly you never recall the sound of their voices.
How was Raskolnikov to avoid such a siren?
I think that’s the question the reader is supposed to ask at this point. That’s the tension you are supposed to feel.
Last night, it was the introduction of Razumikhin that made me set the book down and think. Razumikhin is introduced from the start as the balanced, mature human being. He’s Paul-like in his ability to adapt and be content. Most remarkable are the last couple sentences of chapter 4.
Once somehow, about two months ago, they were about to meet on the street, but Raskolnikov turned away and even crossed over to the other side of the street so he wouldn’t be noticed. But Razumikhin, even though he did notice him, passed him by, not wishing to disturb his friend.p. 56 (translator’s italics)
He knows how to be a friend. I read that and gasped.
Today, I was flipping the pages of this Michael R. Katz translation and noticed in the first few pages a short list of names and their meanings. Apparently, Razumikhin coms from rázum, which means “reason, good sense.”
For what it’s worth, raskól means “schism” and raskólnik “schismatic, dissenter.”