Crime And Punishment: Characterization


In Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov's dream about the
mare can be used as a vehicle to probe deep into his mentality to discover
how he really feels inside. The dream suggests that Raskolnikov is a
"split" man; after all, his name in Russian means "split". He has a cruel
and thoughtless side as well as a caring, compassionate side to his
personality. Through the dream and the symbols therein, a reader can cast
Raskolnikov, as well as other characters from Crime And Punishment, into
any of the various parts in the dream. Each part that a character takes on
leads to a different conclusion about that character. Raskolnikov himself
"fits" into the positions of Mikolka, the child, and the mare.

If Mikolka, the drunken owner of the mare, were to represent
Raskolnikov, then the mare would most probably represent Alyona Ivanovna.
The senseless beating of the mare by Mikolka is similar to the brutal
attack on Alyona by Rodion. (It should be noted that both Alyona and the
mare were female.) These heartless attacks foreshadow the crime that
Raskolnikov is contemplating. Dostoevsky unveils Raskolnikov's cruel side
during this dream, if it is to be interpreted in this way.

On the same token, Raskolnikov's compassionate side could be
represented by the little boy. The child, watching the beating, realizes
the absurdity of it. He even rushes to Mikolka, ready to punish him for
killing the mare. This illustrates Rodion's internal struggle while
contemplating the murder of Alyona. His humane side, the child, tells him
to live and let live. And his "extraordinary" side, according to his
definition, tells him that he should eliminate Alyona altogether, for the
good of man kind.

On the other side of the coin, Raskolnikov could be represented by the
mare itself. However, the burden which the mare must carry (the cart, the
people, etc.) could represent two separate things, depending on if it is
viewed in context before or after the actual murder. Before the murder,
the burden could represent the moral question that is plaguing Rodion.
Should he kill Alyona? Or should he leave her be? Because of the
importance of this question to Raskolnikov, it weighs him down heavily at
first. However, later on, he rashly decides to kill Alyona.

If looked upon after the murder, the load on the mare in the dream
could represent the mental burden placed on Rodion. He had a burden of
guilt on him, and he could not justify the murder according to his own
theory. Therefore, he was tormented by the otherwise insignificant
statements and actions of others in the novel. Even though Porfiry
Petrovitch did not have many of the people purposely harassing Raskolnikov
by mentioning various facets of the murder, it was as if those who were
"beating" the truth out of him were pawns of Porfiry (or that of truth and
the law in general), just as those beating the life out of the mare were
pawns of Mikolka (or that of cruelty). By this reasoning, a parallel may
also be drawn between the mare and Rodion.

This is not to say that the dream does not have other significances.
It is possible that Mikolka represents Porfiry also. Mikolka beat the mare
until it died; Porfiry beat Raskolnikov mentally until he confessed.
There are also other interpretations that can be made.

Despite other possible interpretations, Raskolnikov may be represented
by all three main characters in the dream: Mikolka, the child, and the
mare. Each representation brings to mind a new side of Rodion Romanovitch
that must be considered in order to understand him fully.