Svidrigailov’s Terrible Dreams In Crime And Punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky used nightmares to help him tell the tale of ArkadyIvanovich Ivanovich, a depraved and sexualist. Svidrigailov, who is used as a foil for Raskolnikov, represents the future of the young student if he continues to violate the moral code. Dostoevsky portrays this theme using three of Svidrigailov’s nightmares. Each one shows that you cannot ignore moral laws without facing serious consequences.

These three nightmares were triggered by an encounter between Svidrigailov’s and Dounia. Dounia has been the only woman Svidrigailov is truly in love with. Svidrigailov puts Dounia in a locked room and gives her a degrading look. Dounia grabs a revolver and fires it three more times as self-defense. Dounia is able to shoot, but she deliberately misses each shot. Dounia’s mercy and unwillingness to go against the moral grain has profound effects on Svidrigailov. . . Roll from his heart. . . “The deliverance from another, more bitter and darker feeling” (458-459). Dounia’s example causes Svidrigailov to temporarily suppress his immorality inclination and gives him the key to the room. Dounia felt that the tone of his “make haste” had a terrible meaning. She couldn’t be certain how long his morality (which manifested in his desire for her to love him) would prevail over his other impulses, such as his desire for her to make his way. Svidrigailov leaves Dounia in a rare state morally. He then walks through St. Petersburg in the dark and stormy night, before finally settling down in the hotel room. The description of the room is similar to Raskolnikov’s garret. “More like a cupboard than an actual room.” (1) This similarity and the fact Svidrigailov feels feverish immediately after arriving in his room reinforces the similarities between Raskolnikov (455)

Svidrigailov dreams that a mouse is crawling under his sheets and on top of his bed. Svidrigailov is trying to catch it, but it is impossible for him to do so. Svidrigailov eventually wakes up, grumbling, “How disgusting!” (467). Svidrigailov was revolted by this rodent crawling all over his body. Although Dounia temporarily suppressed Svidrigailov’s lewdness, he knows that there is something more. This vice is based on nature and not fantasy, and is present in his blood like an ever-burning fire ember (434). This dream reminds Svidrigailov to never give up, no matter what he does.

Svidrigailov’s second vision stands out in Dostoevsky’s narrative in terms of Dostoevsky’s use of imagery. Dostoevsky used only dull grays and sickly-colored yellows to describe St. Petersburg’s Hay Market. Svidrigailov’s second nightmare, however, sees Dostoevsky describe a beautiful cottage in the country, full of fragrant flowers and surrounded by trees, on a sunny, warm Trinity Day. Svidrigailov sees himself inside the cottage, next to “nosegays tender, white-scented narcissus bent over their long, bright, green stalks” (468). Svidrigailov refuses to leave the narcissuses, which are named after an extreme case of self-absorption. Svidrigailov finally climbs the steps and finds himself in a room filled with flowers and hey, and a small coffin. Dostoevsky describes the coffin as being covered with white silk and surrounded by a thick white frill. There were wreaths of flowers surrounding it from all sides. The color white was used along with floral imagery to represent the innocence stolen from the girl. In stark contrast to her innocence, this girl wears “smiles on pale lips of unchildish misery” in stark contrast to the innocence she is shown. . . Although she is only fourteen years old, her heart is. . . [had been] crushed with an insult that had smirched this angel purity avec unmerited disgrace” (468). Svidrigailov, staring at the girl who he had made drown, is very aware of his role. Svidrigailov refuses to live in guilt and misery any longer and opens a window to let the wind lash furiously against him and his chest. He is able to get out of bed and wake up.

Svidrigailov decides to leave the hotel to find a place to kill himself under the rainy bush. He is stopped by a small girl aged five, who is cold and wet in her clothes. Svidrigailov feels pity for the poor girl and takes her clothes off to his room. Then he tucks her into bed. The girl experiences a bizarre transformation after she’s in bed. Her cheeks appear more ruddy than the rosy cheeks she had in childhood. . . It’s like drinking flushes. . . Her crimson cheeks [become] hot-and-glowing” (470). Dostoevsky used red imagery to suggest that Dostoevsky believes the girl has a sexuality better suited for a prostitute. Svidrigailov starts to notice something “shameless” and “provocative” about her childish look. It was depravity. . . Both eyes were wide open, they laughed and invited him in” (470). Svidrigailov is horrified at the depravity of this girl. Although “the monstrous differences in age and developmental excites [his] sensuality,” Svidrigailov finds it hard to believe that a five-year-old girl in such a condition can inspire revulsion (444). The girl makes him angry and he attempts hitting her. However, his anger is directed at himself for being depraved.

Svidrigailov sits now, fully awake, in his hotel bedroom, and unsuccessfully tries to grab at the flying flies. “Realizing that he [is] engaged [in this interesting pursuit], he [starts],” as his life bears strange resemblances to his first dream, in which Svidrigailov unsuccessfully attempted to grab a mouse in an attempt to eat his veal. Realizing what he saw in his dreams, Svidrigailov is horrified at the extent of his own sinfulness. Svidrigailov once said that “Everyone thinks in himself and the one who lives most gaily knows best how deceive themselves” (444).

Svidrigailov left the hotel to search for a place to commit suicide. Svidrigailov knows that he cannot turn back after he has lived in vice for so many years. He will continue to be a sinner and delve deeper into vice, which he won’t allow. Ironically, he doesn’t have any other choice but to die. Svidrigailov still feels morally controlled by Dounia and the terror of the three nightmarish nightmares. He decides to kill himself to end the “terrible and dumb struggle in my heart” between morality & immorality. Because there is no doubt which side will triumph, (459).

Svidrigailov’s passing emphasizes the central theme of the novel: that one cannot continue to violate the moral code without suffering. Svidrigailov understands that his sinful deeds will ultimately lead him to death. However, he keeps his fate from his own destruction and refuses to acknowledge the consequences of his actions. Ironically, his dreams are what bring Svidrigailov back into reality. Dostoevsky uses Dostoevsky’s nightmares and other parallels to illustrate the similarities between Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov’s situations. Svidrigailov has warned Raskolnikov several times about the serious consequences of his actions. He is faced with the choice of a bullet in his head or life in Siberia. Svidrigailov’s words are based on first-hand experience. He warns Raskolnikov that he will soon be unable to choose between life in Siberia or death.


  • stanleybyrne

    Stanley Byrne is a 26-year-old education blogger and teacher. He has degrees in education and political science from the University of Notre Dame and has worked in various teaching and research positions since he graduated in 2014. He is the author of a number of educational blog posts and has written for Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Salon.