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• ARKADY IVANOVICH SVIDRIGAILOV
Because this is Raskolnikov's story, each of the other characters is considered in relation to him. While Svidrigailov's life and death are dramatic in themselves, their importance to the novel lies in what they tell you about Raskolnikov. In literary terms we would say that Svidrigailov (and also Porfiry, Razumikhin, and Luzhin) acts as a foil to Raskolnikov. A foil is a character whose similarities to-and differences from-the main character help to define the main character.
Like Raskolnikov, Svidrigailov is a criminal. He too is troubled by vivid, terrifying dreams: dead characters haunt him, as they do Raskolnikov. The striking moment when the two meet occurs just as Raskolnikov wakes up from reliving in his dream the murder of the pawnbroker. Svidrigailov doesn't waste any time telling him they are "birds of a feather," an idea he repeats frequently.
Like Raskolnikov, he seeks love from a woman who has shown pity for him and who, he believes, will save him from death. In his case the woman he loves-with a great sexual passion-is Raskolnikov's sister Dunya. Unlike Sonia, Dunya spurns her lover's advances. She is repulsed by him, and when he finally understands how much she hates him, he kills himself. In contrast, Raskolnikov's love for Sonia truly is his salvation.
Another similarity between them is that Svidrigailov is generous with his money. Like Raskolnikov, he is the benefactor of the needy, in particular of the Marmeladovs.
Despite the similarities, most readers finally conclude that the differences between the men are more important. For one thing, Svidrigailov is decadent. You might forgive his having been in prison for debt and having allowed a woman to buy his way out. But he is also a child molester, a man who can barely control his passions.
While he argues that he seeks out Dunya as his salvation from evil and boredom, it seems much more likely that he is primarily interested in sexual satisfaction. Many readers are repelled by the fact that he tries to buy her love by threatening to betray her brother as a killer.
It is important to realize, though, that Svidrigailov isn't a totally evil, despicable character. His decision to commit suicide has tragic elements because he's so totally abandoned. He evokes pity from many readers, although they are able to see that he has invited his own destruction. As you read the scenes in which he appears, watch the balance that Dostoevsky strikes between the hateful and the pathetic parts of his character.
As you consider Svidrigailov as a foil to Raskolnikov, ask yourself a few questions: Why does Raskolnikov hate and fear Svidrigailov after his initial, rather favorable, impression? And why is it that Svidrigailov seems to be able to get away with his crimes without all the anguish that Raskolnikov suffers? Does that make Svidrigailov a superman? Remember, though, that in the end Raskolnikov lives and Svidrigailov dies.
• AVDOTYA ROMANOVNA RASKOLNIKOVA (DUNYA, DOUNIA)
Raskolnikov's sister may remind you in some ways of Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky stresses how much they look alike and how stubborn and determined they both are. Ultimately, though, Dunya yields to the conventional feminine stereotype and finds happiness in marriage with Razumikhin. That happens, in part, because while she shares her brother's pride and courage to be bold, she lacks his intellectual turmoil. Her rebellion is not as dramatic as his, nor is it criminal.
However, when Svidrigailov threatens her virtue and her brother's safety, she is perfectly willing to kill him and actually tries to. She grazes him with her first shot; the gun misfires the second time. You could argue that it is only lack of skill that keeps her from being a murderer too. She throws down the gun, instead of firing another shot, though. In doing so, she rejects the violence that Raskolnikov tested.
Her potential for violence is like his. But stronger than Dunya's power to hate is her power to love. She loves her brother, her mother, and eventually her husband. Some critics even believe that she feels an attraction for Svidrigailov that is destroyed by his overt sexuality. Like Sonia, she is willing to suffer for those she loves; unlike Sonia, she draws the line.
Like Sonia, too, her love is strong enough to forgive Raskolnikov's transgressions. And Dunya can understand his decision to turn to a prostitute for love and forgiveness. Dunya recognizes his anguish and the struggle it will be for him to recover his mental and emotional balance. Wisely, she also realizes that Sonia is the only one who can help him. Probably Raskolnikov's most foolish error of judgment is not trusting Dunya and her power to forgive.
For many readers Dunya and Razumikhin are the two most normal, appealing characters in the novel. Remember, though, that Dostoevsky is using them as foils to Raskolnikov, rather than as protagonists.