Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crime and Punishment


I just got finished reading, one of the greatest books ever written. If you haven't read it I highly advise that you do.
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky.

The story is of a young Russian student named Raskolnikov who commits a horrible crime. The book deals with the inner workings of his mind, the tremendous burden of guilt that slowly pecks away at his sanity, and ultimately the inner need to accept upon himself suffering in order to come to some kind of redemption.
It follows the lives of numerous characters but the other central character of the book is Sonia. Sonia is an 18 year old with a troubled past of her own that Raskolnikov feels an affinity to and who he finally admits the crime to. She doesn't judge him harshly but guides him through her inner goodness to do the right thing.
Even when he finally gets himself to go to the police station to admit the crime and hears the officer tell him that he's not a suspect and he leaves feeling giddy at his "getting off the hook", he catches a glimpse of her across the street with her questioning eyes and turns back around to give himself in.

He's sent to Siberia for 7 years of hard labor and she follows him there. Initially there is tension between them as he still is not 100% at peace with the situation.
Then comes the most beautiful passage of the book at the very end.

"One evening, when he was almost well again, Raskolnikov fell asleep. On waking up he chanced to go to the window, and at once saw Sonia in the distance at the hospital gate. She seemed to be waiting for someone. Something stabbed him to the heart at that minute. He shuddered and moved away from the window. Next day Sonia did not come, nor the day after; he noticed that he was expecting her uneasily. At last he was discharged. On reaching the prison he learnt from the convicts that Sofya Semyonovna was lying ill at home and was unable to go out.

He was very uneasy and sent to inquire after her; he soon learnt that her illness was not dangerous. Hearing that he was anxious about her, Sonia sent him a pencilled note, telling him that she was much better, that she had a slight cold and that she would soon, very soon come and see him at his work. His heart throbbed painfully as he read it.

Again it was a warm bright day. Early in the morning, at six o'clock, he went off to work on the river bank, where they used to pound alabaster and where there was a kiln for baking it in a shed. There were only three of them sent. One of the convicts went with the guard to the fortress to fetch a tool; the other began getting the wood ready and laying it in the kiln. Raskolnikov came out of the shed on to the river bank, sat down on a heap of logs by the shed and began gazing at the wide deserted river. From the high bank a broad landscape opened before him, the sound of singing floated faintly audible from the other bank. In the vast steppe, bathed in sunshine, he could just see, like black specks, the nomads' tents. There there was freedom, there other men were living, utterly unlike those here; there time itself seemed to stand still, as though the age of Abraham and his flocks had not passed. Raskolnikov sat gazing, his thoughts passed into day-dreams, into contemplation; he thought of nothing, but a vague restlessness excited and troubled him. Suddenly he found Sonia beside him; she had come up noiselessly and sat down at his side. It was still quite early; the morning chill was still keen. She wore her poor old burnous and the green shawl; her face still showed signs of illness, it was thinner and paler. She gave him a joyful smile of welcome, but held out her hand with her usual timidity. She was always timid of holding out her hand to him and sometimes did not offer it at all, as though afraid he would repel it. He always took her hand as though with repugnance, always seemed vexed to meet her and was sometimes obstinately silent throughout her visit. Sometimes she trembled before him and went away deeply grieved. But now their hands did not part. He stole a rapid glance at her and dropped his eyes on the ground without speaking. They were alone, no one had seen them. The guard had turned away for the time.

How it happened he did not know. But all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms round her knees. For the first instant she was terribly frightened and she turned pale. She jumped up and looked at him trembling. But at the same moment she understood, and a light of infinite happiness came into her eyes. She knew and had no doubt that he loved her beyond everything and that at last the moment had come. . . .

They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other.

They resolved to wait and be patient. They had another seven years to wait, and what terrible suffering and what infinite happiness before them! But he had risen again and he knew it and felt it in all his being, while she--she only lived in his life.

On the evening of the same day, when the barracks were locked, Raskolnikov lay on his plank bed and thought of her. He had even fancied that day that all the convicts who had been his enemies looked at him differently; he had even entered into talk with them and they answered him in a friendly way. He remembered that now, and thought it was bound to be so. Wasn't everything now bound to be changed?

He thought of her. He remembered how continually he had tormented her and wounded her heart. He remembered her pale and thin little face. But these recollections scarcely troubled him now; he knew with what infinite love he would now repay all her sufferings. And what were all, /all/ the agonies of the past! Everything, even his crime, his sentence and imprisonment, seemed to him now in the first rush of feeling an external, strange fact with which he had no concern. But he could not think for long together of anything that evening, and he could not have analysed anything consciously; he was simply feeling. Life had stepped into the place of theory and something quite different would work itself out in his mind.

He did not open it now, but one thought passed through his mind: "Can her convictions not be mine now? Her feelings, her aspirations at least. . . ."

She too had been greatly agitated that day, and at night she was taken ill again. But she was so happy--and so unexpectedly happy--that she was almost frightened of her happiness. Seven years, /only/ seven years! At the beginning of their happiness at some moments they were both ready to look on those seven years as though they were seven days. He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.

But that is the beginning of a new story--the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended."

And I sit here wondering at our view of suffering. How do we accept it?
We go running to pray and beseech the heavens the have it removed so we could go back to our pampered existence.

But perhaps we're letting go of the greatest gift we can have.
Perhaps we should embrace the suffering and use it as a vehicle for new beginnings.

To shudder and cry, to introspect and grow...and suffer for something greater, for a greater you.




Blogger Mystery Woman said...

Embrace suffering? Is that the message you got from this story?
I read this completely differently. I see it as the power of love. When there is someone you love, you may be suffering, but you don't notice it. Everything feels better.
Sure...suffering helps us grow. But embrace it? Choose it? Ask for it? I don't know....

June 22, 2010 10:02 AM  
Blogger David_on_the_Lake said...

It goes hand in hand. Her love is for him a spiritual enlightening and inspires the need for redemption.

If it were just about love than he would have just ran away with her without giving himself in.

June 22, 2010 1:45 PM  
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