Crime and Punishment at 150 (2016)

Dostoevsky for Non-Readers Apollonio, Carol


In Dostoevsky’s polyphonic novels, ethical questions play out not merely on the thematic level, but also in the narrative structure itself. In Crime and Punishment, the omniscient narrator has unique access to the protagonist’s suppressed inner thoughts. This analysis proposes a continuum beginning with Raskolnikov’s inner feelings and running outward through thought, speech, and finally action, in a quest to trace the drama of conscience at the novel’s core. In Russian, speech is introduced with dashes; thoughts with quote marks; in English, quotation marks are used for both, presenting a nearly unsurmountable challenge to translators. A search of the original Russian text pinpoints the tension points at the moments where the narrator opts to use quotation marks or dashes to convey Raskolnikov’s thoughts and speech. Here, at the climactic moments in the murderer’s conversations with key others, the narrative structure collapses: quotes indicate suppressed thoughts, but the narrator’s tags render them as speech. At these points, when the murderer’s unspoken thoughts spill out into the novel’s space of action, he finds himself on the path to reintegration into human community. In this ethical drama, the narrator exercises considerable power. The analysis draws on tropes of social media, and the real-time talk elicited its own critical commentary in the form of Tweets from listeners.

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