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Free Study Guide-Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky-Free Booknotes
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USE OF IRONY

Dostoevsky makes superb use of irony as a literary device in this novel. Raskolnikov's soul is seemingly cramped by the narrow confines of his room. However, when he tries to free himself of his constricting poverty and isolation by murdering the pawnbroker and stealing her money, he further restricts his own freedom, as he withdraws even more from human society. Another stroke of irony is that he never uses this money to advance himself in life but buries it in the park nearby. He seems to have forgotten his noble aim of helping society with Alena Ivanovna's money.

Although he appears meticulous in his preplanning of the murder, when he actually executes the plan, he commits serious blunders that are unusual in a man of his so-called "superior" intellect. He leaves for the crime at the very last moment and risks meeting Lizaveta, who may return any time after her evening appointment in the Haymarket area. He acquires the murder weapon merely by chance, then leaves the front door open while committing the crime, and escapes from the scene only by sheer luck. For a man who prides himself on his "extraordinary" intellect, this is poor planning indeed.

After the murder, he had presumed that he would hardly be affected by his crime as the "Extraordinary man" is expected to stifle his conscience. Yet, Raskolnikov suffers all the symptoms of a man with a horrible secret. He has recurrent bouts of illness, horrifying nightmares and feels a compulsive urge to confess on at least a dozen occasion, although he always stops himself just in time. Ironically, when he does confess to Sonia in what he thinks is a confidential encounter, Svidrigailov happens to overhear his revelations. Besides, Porfiry already has confirmed his suspicions that Raskolnikov is the culprit, yet Raskolnikov thinks he is fooling the police and leading them around in circles. It is the police who play an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with him.


Ironically, Raskolnikov blissfully ignores the fact that in trying to help society to rid itself of the parasitic pawnbroker, he himself has to stoop to the level of becoming a common thief and cold-blooded murderer. Thus, in trying to help others by what he considers a humane act of murder, he renders himself into an inhumane monster. Dostoevsky stresses this fact when Raskolnikov commits a second murder because of Lizaveta's unexpected appearance. This second crime is executed in an even more ghastly fashion, with the sharper side of the axe. This shows the reader that Raskolnikov can commit both the premeditated murder of one he considers an evil in society and the impulsive murder of an innocent person like Lizaveta.

Another moment of irony occurs early in Part II, when Raskolnikov is struck with a lash by a coach drawer. Soon afterwards, he is mistaken for a beggar when someone forces money into his hands. This whipping and unexpected act of charity are ironic contrasts to Raskolnikov's grandiose theories of his being an exception in the world of ordinary mortals.

Every chapter of the novel, if studied in detail, will reveal some exquisite piece of irony that underscores a crucial point. One of the crowning ironies of the novel is that Raskolnikov is finally redeemed by the so-called "fallen woman, " Sonia.

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