Summary and Analysis Part 6: Chapter 5


Raskolnikov fears that Svidrigailov still has evil designs on his sister and is determined to follow him. Svidrigailov is disgusted and annoyed because the designated time to meet Dunya has almost elapsed. Therefore, he begins to bring up the subject of the murder and to make caustic remarks to Raskolnikov calling him a romantic (Schillerresque Romantic) who objects to people listening at doors but it's alright to murder an old louse. Finally, Raskolnikov is disgusted with being around Svidrigailov and he leaves.

As he walks away he passes Dunya but does not see her. At the same time Dunya sees Svidrigailov waiting for her and she hurriedly goes to meet him. Svidrigailov tricks Dunya into his room by hinting about strange things Raskolnikov has done and also by assuring her that all the neighbors, including Sonya, will be present.

In his room he reveals to her all that he has heard about Raskolnikov's confession. He explains how Raskolnikov committed the crime to support some theories of his. As he explains the theories, Dunya is able to believe him because she has carefully read the article that Raskolnikov published about his theories of crime and the criminal. Svidrigailov then suggests that Raskolnikov get a ticket to some place far away, maybe America, because Raskolnikov "may yet be a great man." After he convinces her of her brother's guilt, he then reveals that only she can save her brother by submitting to his seduction.

Dunya quickly rushes to the door and finds it locked. Svidrigailov reveals that the other tenants, including Sonya, are away and will not return until late at night. Svidrigailov implores Dunya to submit to the seduction even though he points out how easily it would be for him to overpower her; she is at his mercy. She would not be able to complain to the authorities without implicating and finally condemning her own brother.

At this time, Dunya pulls out a gun that Svidrigailov recognizes as belonging to him; she had taken it long ago when she was the governess. Svidrigailov begins to threateningly approach Dunya. She shoots once and misses. She shoots once more and the bullet grazes his hair. Svidrigailov does not rush Dunya; instead, he gives her all the time she needs in order to reload the pistol. He is willing to let Dunya kill him. After she has reloaded the pistol, he approaches her again saying that this time at three paces, she can hardly miss, but she can't fire and she drops the pistol. Svidrigailov feels that this is a good sign. He takes her in his arms and asks her if she can love him. To her response of "Never," he then gives her the key and tells her to take it but make haste and leave. Svidrigailov remains a few minutes longer, and then takes his hat and leaves.


At the beginning of the chapter, Raskolnikov is suspicious that Svidrigailov still has plans to seduce Dunya and resolves to follow him. Ironically, he is completely right. Svidrigailov knows this, but he is also shrewd enough to know that Raskolnikov can't stomach his vulgar talk. True to form, Raskolnikov suddenly is repulsed and disgusted with the man's depravity and cannot stand to be in his presence any longer.

The scene with Dunya is the most crucial in Svidrigailov's life. Prior to this scene, Svidrigailov had functioned as a man completely self-sufficient, needing no one. Like Raskolnikov, he thought that his aims and desires were above those of the ordinary man. Likewise, in the past, whenever Svidrigailov wanted something, he simply took it and defied all consequences. He lived with the idea that he needed no one and that he could withstand all things. Now he finds that he not only wants Dunya, but also, and more importantly, he wants Dunya to want him. Here then, is the total failure of the Ubermensch — that is, the total impossibility of man's being able to exist completely alone.

If it were only the sensual pleasure derived from seducing Dunya, Svidrigailov could have easily raped her. If it were a matter of simply asserting his self-will and power, he could have easily done that. Previously, Svidrigailov had dared to face life alone — that is, to measure his will against all things. In doing this he has been utterly alone — in complete solitude as Raskolnikov was. He has committed evil so that he might know whether some power beyond him could punish him, and he has not been punished. So there is nothing for his unconquerable will to will any more. His is a loneliness that is more than he can bear. He then turns to Dunya knowing that she dislikes him, yet hoping there may be a spark of love behind all the loathing that would show him he is not alone. Twice she fires at him. He remains and allows her to fire so as to see if he can be punished. But before she fires a third time, she drops the pistol. The one last hope for himself is aroused. "A weight seemed to have rolled from his heart. . .it was the deliverance from another feeling, darker and more bitter, which he could not himself define." This feeling is the hope that Dunya's dropping of the gun means that she can give freely of herself to him; he asks if she loves him or can ever love him. Never. That hope is destroyed, and he is again completely alone. He has crossed the bounds of all human experience in his desire to find whether the burden of life rests on his will alone or whether there is something beyond, and he has found nothing. Death then is the only thing that he has left untried — the only thing he has not yet willed. It is for him to finally will his own death.

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