Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov’s Mother

Chapter three. It continues.

I had always thought of Raskolnikov’s mother as simply sincere, sentimental (to a fault), and a little batty. But after reading her letter to Raskolnikov, I’ve decided to explore a new theory and see how much water it holds for the rest of the novel.

Perhaps Raskolnikov’s mother is more deliberate than I’ve given her credit to be. In her letter, she describes an existence where Dounia and she are constantly thinking of him and would do anything for him–in fact, everything they currently do is for him.  She seems so much in earnest, to the point of blathering, in her letter, so it seems like an outpouring of love. But for the first time, I’m entertaining the idea that Raskolnikov is not her favorite child after all.  That puts quite a different spin on things.

Her is the narrative of the letter in one light–the light in which I’ve always read the letter in before:

  • I haven’t written because I couldn’t–you would come marching up here with guns blazing to defend your sister*
  • Dounia has undergone terrible suffering and slander but now everything is going to be great!
  • Her future husband will take care of the whole family, get you a job, etc. He’s kinda pompous, but please don’t judge him–give him a chance, because all our hopes are with him, and I’m sure he’s really a great guy.
  • Heck, when they get married, maybe I’ll even try to strike out on my own! Me, an independent woman–picture that!

*Question: Would he have, though?  Would Raskolnikov have really come in a fury to defend Dounia’s honor? Maybe. He’s such a moody guy that I’d say it depends on the day.

Now, here is the narrative of the letter in a new light, reading between the lines:

  • I haven’t written because I couldn’t–you would come marching up here with guns blazing, or at least I’d like to make it clear that that’s my expectation of your character and I’m hoping you’ll take the hint and match those expectations, should future circumstances like this arrive and we need you.
  • Dounia has undergone terrible suffering, and it’s all for you, really.
  • She’s done all this and now she’s about to marry a self-important, insulting, disgusting person she doesn’t even like, and guess why–FOR YOU.
  • If you let her marry this guy for your own benefit, God have mercy on your soul.
  • Also, I don’t think that he’s going to make me feel welcome in their house and I’m too poor too make it alone

Does this new reading hold water? Well, I’ll look for it as I read on. But I noticed this time around that she says things she certainly knows will prejudice him against Luhzin (like “it did strike me as very rude,” or “Of course, there is no great love either on his side, or on hers…but Dounia…will make it her duty to make her husband happy,” or “it must be admitted the matter has been arranged in great haste,” or “he seems a little conceited”). And she certainly makes it clear that Dounia (her favorite, perhaps?) is making endless sacrifices for him (she isn’t sleeping, she’s in a fever over dreams of what this connection could mean for her brother, etc.).

I always thought that Raskolnikov’s mother was just overly chatty and says whatever comes into her mind without thinking to censor herself. But writing vs speaking is very different. Mom has a chance to really think about what she’s saying, and she can always throw out a paper on which she’s written things too hastily. She knows her son. She knows how he will read all the things she’s said, how he’ll interpret all of her words.

On a broader scale, this could be an author technique to prejudice the reader in certain ways as well, and I’m just being overly, umm, invested. Perhaps my initial reads of Mom are accurate. But I’m going to explore the manipulation angle this read-around, just for fun.

2 responses to “Crime and Punishment: Raskolnikov’s Mother

  1. I think you’re definitely on to something! I watched a great analysis on Youtube of R’s mom as a narcissist… I was put off at first because she seemed to me too to be a sincerely loving (and a little batty) mom; but I think she does (unconsciously, but seemingly deliberately) put a ton of pressure on her son. The video, ‘Dostoevsky & Freud: Psychology of Raskolnikov | Crime & Punishment’ goes so far as to explain R’s “death drive” (lazy sitting around, hating everything) and eventual murder as direct responses to this stifling upbringing. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

  2. Hey, thanks for commenting!

    Wow, it’s been some time since I read the book. But I remember enough to know you’re totally right about the death drive—it was Raskolnikov’s choice, over and over, to make himself a suspect in the murder. He could have easily gotten away with it, but something in him drove him to put himself in danger. There’s so much of the maniacally depressed daredevil in Raskolnikov, which has death drive written all over it.

    And yeah, totally—since Freud blames so much of our behavior on our upbringing, including whether we’re more in touch with our death drive or pleasure drive, there’s no doubt momma’s to blame here. “Stifling” is one of the best words I can think of to describe his mother.

    What a cool observation! I wouldn’t have put that together on my own. And I’m going to go look up that video!

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