, Research Paper
English IV H
October 5th, 1997
Throughout the novel Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky develops the character of Alyonia Ivanovna into one that guides the flow of the book. At the most obvious level she is essential to the plot. After all, if it weren’t for her, who would Raskolnikov have murdered? In addition, Ivanovna?s character is of paramount importance when analyzing the effects her murder has on the psyche of Raskolnikov. Despite the fact that she appears only once or twice before her murder, Alyonia Ivanovna is central to the plot and meaning of Crime and Punishment.
From the very beginning of the novel, the reader is aware that Raskolnikov is up to something. Dostoevsky builds suspense by slowly alluding to Raskolnikov?s plans to kill Alyonia Ivanovna, an old pawn broker, whom he has borrowed money from in the past. This, however, is only one justification for his actions. To understand the rest, it is necessary to first understand the character of Raskolnikov.
Raskolnikov is a person suffering from a dual personality. On one hand, he wants to do good, as demonstrated by his pity for Sonia and her family, on the other hand, he is able to kill Ivanovna. For purposes here, we are only concerned with the dark side of Raskolnikov, however it must be noted that the good side does exist. Raskolnikov is proud, self-centered and has delusions of grandeur: he thinks himself to be a Napoleon or other great figure for which the common law should not apply. Raskolnikov has come up with a ?superman? theory, that there are a few individuals that should not be bound by the common law, because they are above the rest of society. These great individuals should not be hindered by society, but should be separated into a separate class with separate rules. Raskolnikov believes that he is brilliant, gifted, a ?superman?, and because of his talents, has the right to commit crime to achieve his goals. The fact that he does not realize what his goals really are does not prevent him from attempting his ?crime of principal?.
It is on this backdrop of Raskolnikov?s ego and prospects that Dostoevsky paints the image of Alyonia Ivanovna. She is all the bad elements of society wrapped into one withered old witch. She lives in a decent building along with her younger sister Lizaveta. Lizaveta is the exact opposite of her sister. She is kind, warm hearted, and fair. The dualality of Raskolnikov can been seen in these two people, the evil is embodied in Alyonia, while the good is represented by Lizaveta. Dostoevsky portrays Alyonia as evil for a reason: justification of Raskolnikov?s potential actions. Raskolnikov loathes Alyonia, as do the other people who know her:
?You can always get money from her [Alyonia]. She is as rich as a Jew… but she is an awful old harpy… And he [another student] begin describing how spiteful and uncertain she was, how if you were only a day late with your interest the pledge was lost; how she gave a quarter of the value of an article and took five and even seven percent a month on it… she had a sister Lizaveta, whom the wretched little creature was continually beating and kept in bondage like a small child…? (Dostoevsky 57).
At this point Raskolnikov is in a tavern, and is listening to this conversation after having just been to the pawn broker?s apartment. He is thinking that Alyonia provides no great service to society, but is rather a leach, sucking the life of those whom misfortune strikes. If he were to kill the old woman, not only would he be accomplishing his goal of testing his ?superman? theory, he would also be helping society by removing another one of its blemishes. While he formulates this idea, the conversation of the student mirrors Raskolnikov?s thoughts:
?… I?ll tell you what. I could kill that damned old woman and make off with her money, I assure you, without the faintest conscience-prick… on one side we have a stupid, senseless, worthless, spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman, not simply useless but doing actual mischief, who has not an idea what she is living for herself, and who will die in a day or two in any case… on the other side, fresh young lives thrown away for want of help and by thousands, on every side! A hundred thousand good deeds could be done and helped, on that old woman’s money… Kill her, take her money and with the help of it devote oneself to the service of humanity and the good of all. …would one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds? For one life thousands thousands would be save from corruption and decay. One death, and a hundred lives in exchange… besides, what value of life has that sickly, stupid, ill-natured old woman in the balance of existence? No more then the life of a louse, or a black-beetle, less in fact because the old woman is doing harm. She is wearing out the lives of others…? (Dostoevsky 59).
This reinforcement of Raskolnikov?s plans and views becomes the moral cornerstone in the justification and support for his actions.
After the crime, the punishment inevitability follows. Instead of prison or death, Raskolnikov receives the most effective form of punishment, a conscience. He is made physically ill by the trauma of his deed, and is thought insane by his friends and family. He further separates himself from society, and entertains thoughts of suicide, and leaving the country. Raskolnikov has killed a human being, broken a moral and social law. No matter how base the pawnbroker was, how despicable and loathsome to society, she was still a human being. He is also distraught by the realization that if he cannot overcome his emotions and reactions to killing a lowly and insignificant person as Ivanovna, he must not be of the caliber he previously thought. Raskolnikov realizes that he is not the ?superman? he thought he was, and that his experiment has failed. Alyonia?s character only compounds the blow to Raskolnikov.
Dostoevsky?s use of a pawn broker and money lender is central to the structure of Crime and Punishment. During this time in history, most people who made a living by loaning money and pawning were looked down upon. They were seen as individuals who took advantage of the misfortunes of others. This allows the author to add dimension and interest to the problems of Raskolnikov. Alyonia Ivanovna provides justification for Raskolnikov’s experiment, in that he believes she is not of importance, and his killing her would have a positive effect. Once Raskolnikov has committed the crime, his ego is deflated by the realization that because he cannot overcome his actions, he is not in the class of the genus and greatness he previously thought. Despite the fact that she does not appear often in the course of the novel, Alyonia Ivanovna?s character greatly effects the plot, specifically the character and thoughts of her murderer Raskolnikov. By making the character of Ivanovna shady, Dostoevsky provides for some of the windfalls and pitfalls of Raskolnikov. As a result of this, the character of Alyonia Ivanovna has a significant presence in Crime and Punishment, despite the fact that she does not appear in great length.