In superstitions, a mirror is thought to be a reflection of one’s soul; this is why shattering a mirror was and still is considered bad luck. In Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the concept of the reflected soul is used as an important tool of foreshadowing. However, rather than using a mirror, Dostoevsky uses characters to reflect the nature of others. The experiences of Seymon Zakharovich Marmeladov, a minor character, is used to reflect Raskolnikov’s process of guilt and confession. Raskolnikov and Marmaladov share similar experiences in dealing with their own demons.
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When Marmeladov is first introduced, he is described as an unkempt man drinking away his sorrows: “There were bits of hay clinging to his clothes and in his hair. He had probably not undressed or washed for five days. His hands were especially dirty, greasy, red from exposure, fingernails black” (Dostoevsky 11). Marmeladov’s dirty hands symbolize that he has already sullied them with a crime: alcoholism. This vice has thrown his family into a vicious cycle of poverty that is nearly impossible to escape, to the point where Sonya, his daughter, prostitutes herself for a few roubles. As such, he is suffering from the remorse of being unable to break his addiction. This is expressed continually throughout his long speech to Raskolnikov; he wants to help his family, yet his alcoholism prevents him from doing so. Furthermore, he has been struggling with it for an extended period of time, as in the tavern, “his talk seemed to elicit general if idle interest…Marmeladov was well known here and had acquired that rhetorical flair of his in many such talks” (11). However, for Raskolnikov, Marmeladov’s peril is new, and as a result, pitiful.
When Something Raskolnikov does not realize throughout his time with Marmeladov is that Marmeladov’s suffering is a foreshadowing of Raskolnikov’s own battle with guilt. Their conversation takes place after Marmeladov has been suffering with guilt, while Raskolnikov has yet to commit his own crime. After he brutally murders the two women, Raskolnikov begins to drown in his own remorse. His regret manifests itself when he is cleaning himself of the blood spattered on his apparel: “Here a strange thought came into his head: perhaps all his clothes were covered with blood, perhaps there were stains all over them, and he simply did not see, did not notice them, because his reasoning was failing, going to pieces…his mind darkening” (91). Whereas Marmeladov’s guilt manifests itself through ranting, Raskolnikov’s manifests itself through intense psychological illness, and just as Marmeladov’s alcoholism does not release its grip until he accepts his punishment of death, Raskolnikov’s mental cloudiness does not let go fully until he accepts his punishment and is shipped off to Siberia. Raskolnikov is lucky that a prison sentence is his punishment, as Marmeladov suffers a fate much worse.
When Marmeladov is trampled, there does not seem to be a lot of hope of his recovery, as “blood was flowing from his face and head. His face was battered, crushed, and mangled…” (170). With such low chances of survival, Raskolnikov convinces the policeman to bring the mangled Marmeladov to his family. As he dies, he uses up to his last breath to beg for forgiveness from both his wife and his daughter Sonya. This scene is similar to Raskolnikov later asking for forgiveness for his sins and entering a police station to confess. Both men feverishly ask for forgiveness, as they can no longer stand the guilt. At the last moments of his death, Marmeladov’s facial features are destroyed, thus losing his physical identity, similarly to how Raskolnikov loses the identity of innocence he has kept throughout the novel by confessing his crime to Ilya Petrovich at the police station.
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The fact that Raskolnikov displays kindness to the Marmeladov further demonstrates the idea that the two men’s lives are reflections of each other further demonstrate the similarity between the two men’s experiences. Raskolnikov leaves the Marmeladov family money on the windowsill after helping the drunk man home, and he pays for a doctor and brings the nearly dead Marmeladov to his family after the trampling. Raskolnikov’s kindness to him parallels Razumikin’s kindness to Raskolnikov. No matter how much Raskolnikov verbally abuses Razumikin, the former still cares for the sickly man, even buying him new clothing because of Raskolnikov’s increasing shabbiness.
Marmeladov’s alcoholism guilt parallels Raskolnikov’s murder guilt, and as a result their experiences are similar. Dostoevsky’s purpose of writing such a comparison may be to eliminate distinctions between vices; a murder is just as bad as destructive alcoholism, even if society may try to label one as better or worse. Thus, instead of judging others based on their crimes, it is important to realize that wronging others in in of itself is problematic.
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