Abstract: In the novel Crime and Punishment, the shocking description of Raskolnikov’s crime and the mystery of its motivation have inspired a strong tradition of ethically-focused readings. The key to the novel’s emotional effect lies in Dostoevsky’s manipulation of point of view: from inside Raskolnikov’s head the reader sympathizes with the murder and thus is ethically complicit. The current article considers point of view as a key to ontological questions: what is the hero’s grounding in the material world? How does the reader know what actually takes place, and what might simply be a narration of the hero’s fantasies? Asking who sees Raskolnikov on his pathway to and from the murder, this close reading of key scenes calls into question basic assumptions that readers make about the world of the novel, and by extension about the world beyond the novel. Does the abused girl that Raskolnikov sees on the street after receiving his mother’s letter actually exist? Or do his thoughts about his sister’s predicament and about Sonya Marmeladova conjure her up out of thin air? Did Raskolnikov actually overhear a conversation about murdering the pawnbroker in a tavern or did he fantasize the conversation? Not only do the details of these scenes match his inner thoughts and desires; Dostoevsky’s narrator’s careful framing of them reminds the reader of other carefully constructed fictional frames in other works, such as “Peasant Marei”, where the author (with his narrator) moves inward through the deep layers of his psyche until he finds his story there. Absolutely key to this effect is the protagonist’s separation from human community: without grounding in relationship, we find ourselves in a liminal, fantastical world where in a desperate quest for company we create imaginary companions. This process culminates in the materialization of Ivan Karamazov’s devil in The Brothers Karamazov.
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Trans. by Carol Apollonio, as “Literary and Real-Life Prototypes of Dostoevsky’s Heroes: The ‘Tradesman in the Robe’ in Crime and Punishment”. The New Russian Dostoevsky, ed. Carol Apollonio, trans. Carol Apollonio et. al. Bloomington, Slavica, 2010. Pp. 123-37.