Monday, February 13, 2012

Alcohol Use in Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment is the first novel we've read that has dealt with alcoholism and other problematic consequences of drinking.  When Raskolnikov wanders around the city in a stupor, he's described as looking like a drunk.   He doesn't actually drink much, but when he does it has consequences.  Early on, we are introduced to Marmeladov, a prideful alcoholic who has ruined his family by spending all their money on his habit, forcing Sonya into prostitution to support the family.  Despite forcing his family into destitution, Marmeladov still stubbornly justifies his behavior.  As we find out in Part II, Marmeladov's death is the fault of his drinking: he is run over by a carriage.

The second time Raskolnikov is mentioned drinking, he passes out outside and has a dream, which also deals with alcohol.  He recalls his childhood fear of drunk people, and in his dream he sees a drunk mob beating an old horse to death.  In this dream alcohol seems to unleash the very worst in people.  No wonder Raskolnikov is afraid of it. 

Other characters are also victimized by alcohol.  The young girl Raskolnikov finds wandering in the street in Chapter IV, who he pays the police officer to take home, is described as drunk to the point of not being aware of her surroundings.  The woman who Raskolnikov sees attempting suicide in Part II, Chapter VI is also described as drunk.

The only character who seems to drink without negative consequences so far is Razumikhin, who is arguably the most moral and good-natured character we've met so far.  He is described as "almost incapable of getting really drunk," (189) and while he does let slip that Zamyotov and the other police inspectors had considered Raskolnikov as a suspect, he is the only character so far who has not victimized or been made a victim by alcohol.


5 comments:

  1. I had a discussion question about this topic last week. It's clear that alcoholism plays a large part in this novel, but why is that so? Do you think that Dostoevsky is trying to make a point of the dangers of alcohol, is alcohol being used for its ability to also put people into a dream-like state, or is it something else?

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    1. I think Dostoevsky's family history with alcoholism definitely has something to do with it. I think it'd be hard not to make a point about the dangers of alcohol after an experience like that.
      We also see a lot of altered states of consciousness in this novel, with the way Raskolnikov loses time or goes in and out of awareness of his actions during his "fever," and alcohol is a pretty easy way to get into a state like that.
      What do you think?

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    2. On page 210 I think we find out a little more about why drunkenness is so prominent in this novel. There, Pulcheria mentions "The truth is in wine." I think this should cue us towards the idea that Dostoevsky is using alcohol to engage truth, falsity and possibly deception too.

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  2. I agree that drunkenness is a major character trait/flaw in this novel. I was wondering if anyone noticed any differences in how Dostoevsky describes Raskolnikov when drunk vesus when he is in his "drunken-like" stupor?

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    1. I'd also be curious to see if anyone noticed if there were any differences. I didn't notice when I was reading it, but I hadn't been looking for it.

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