In the novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky a common point of unification for the particular characters in the story is the suffering that is present in the natural human condition. While focusing specifically on Rodion Raskolnikov, Dostoyevsky does a genius job of illuminating the ways in which characters enveloped in different ideologies – whether consciously or unconsciously – deal with this universal fact of living. I want to look at the ways in which a few specific characters suffer and how they deal with it.
Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov is the daughter of a drunkard public official named Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov and stepdaughter of Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov. Due to her father’s alcoholism, Sofya felt that her only option to support her family (including three step siblings) was to become a prostitute. Being a devout Christian, the burden of guilt that accompanies her occupation is immense, but it is ultimately by her faith in Christ that she is able to transcend her suffering. Sofya has a firm belief that any sin can be forgiven, which is perhaps best displayed when she finds out that Rodion has murdered an old pawnbroker but is convinced that he can still find atonement for such an evil deed. What is important to note is that Sofya suffers only because is it necessary to do so as she feels a duty to help those in her family – by whatever means. Sofya suffers due to an incomprehensible love toward those around her. This is what causes her to suffer while she is able to overcome it by knowing her sins will be atoned by Christ.
Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, as mentioned above, is the father of Sofya. His main source of suffering is knowing that his drinking is bringing about the demise of both him and his family. When the Rodion first meets him in a bar, Semyon believes that at judgment day God will accept him just because of how pitiful he is. In contrast to Sofya, whose suffering was necessary to help her family, Semyon’s suffering is done by his own hands and for himself. He would take Sofya’s little money she acquired through prostitution that would have been used to pay for his wife and kids but then squanders it by buying alcohol. He suffers for himself and by himself. It is through drink (which brings about more pain) and the belief that he will ultimately have reconciliation with God that allows Semyon to move through life. This may not have been enough because Dostoyevsky is uncertain as to whether Semyon killed himself in the end or not.
Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin wants to marry Rodion’s sister Dunya and seems to be willing to go at any length to do so. He seems to have an insatiable desire to have a wife that will truly submit to him. Luzhin is interested in Dunya because she is extremely attractive and poor. The reason being a poor woman is important to Luzhin is because he wants a woman that would be indebted to him financially so that she would never cease to do his bidding. Luzhin ends up suffering when he realizes that Dunya sees through this (with the help of himself and Rodion) and his engagement with her ends. His pain is due to the fact that he needs to have power, in this case in the context of a marriage. When Luzhin realizes that not all want to submit to him in his life that he suffers. Like Semyon, his suffering comes about by his own hands.
What appears here even while only looking at three characters is the fact that the types of suffering can be split into two groups: those who suffer for themselves and those who suffer for others. It seems that Dostoyevsky is showing that while suffering cannot be avoided, it is the manner in which one suffers that is important. One should always strive to suffer for others, which is ultimately what Rodion seems to realize at the end of the novel (this is oversimplifying things for sure but this is one piece of his final “redemption.”)