Crime and Punishment

Svidrigailov's Nightmares

In his novel Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky uses nightmares to develop the story of Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov, the depraved sensualist, to its dnouement, in which he fully accepts his dire situation and its inevitable outcome. Svidrigailov is used as a foil to Raskolnikov and represents what the young student could become should he continue to transgress the moral line. Dostoevsky develops this theme through the use of Svidrigailov's three nightmares, each of which shows that no one can continually ignore moral law without suffering grave consequences.

These three nightmares directly follow an encounter between Svidrigailov and Dounia, the only woman Svidrigailov has ever truly loved. Svidrigailov locks Dounia in a room and fixes her with a lecherous look. In self-defense, Dounia pulls out a revolver and fires three times. She is an able shot but purposefully misses him with each bullet. Dounia's show of mercy, her unwillingness to cross the moral line, has a profound effect on Svidrigailov, who feels "a weight . . . rolled from his heart, . . . the deliverance from another feeling, darker and more bitter" (458-459). Svidrigailov is so moved by Dounia's example that he temporarily suppresses...

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