Six Degrees: From Marie Cardona to Sonya Marmeladov
Six Degrees is back this week with our 49th post! 49 books! Can you believe it. That’s a crazy amount to choose from. That’s almost one for every week of the year. If you’re new to the series and just popping in, you can find the list of all the books on the Six Degrees of Kool Books main page where you can find all the rules and how to participate in this madness.
Well, last week Jenelle was forced to dig up a rather unsettling book, The Stranger, by Albert Camus. Probably my fault for not giving her enough characters to choose from the week before with The Great Divorce, but it is what it is. Even though I hadn’t read the story, as Jenelle was describing it, it felt eerily familiar. That’s because the book I’m going to be talking about this week, Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky had a very similar plot and a very similar main character. But don’t worry, even though this book is hardly a feel-good-tale, from what I gather it’s not nearly as bleak and hopeless as Camus’ offering.
Both novels revolve around main characters who commit murder and both of these characters are loved by women who are far better human beings than they are. In The Stranger, Meursault has Marie Cardona and in Crime and Punishment, Rodya Raskolnikov has Sonya Marmeladov. Sonya, just like Marie wants marry Rodya in spite of his faults and the fact that she knows he is a murder. Both of them seemed to have that “stand by your man” mentality, even though they are both in love with morally deficient men. The similarities end there, however, because Raskolnikov, unlike Meursault is ridden with anxiety over his crime. Part of him seems to want to get away with it, but the other part is tormented by what he has done. He is a more realistic portrait of the sense of justice inherent in human beings that, even when they have committed an undetected crime, will not allow them to live a normal life. A poor, destitute student, Raskolnikov is a tragic figure, but by the end of the novel he finally finds the peace and redemption he is looking for, largely through the influence of Sonya who is portrayed as full of Christian virtue, though she herself has been driven by her poverty to lead an immoral lifestyle.
Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya, is a principled, headstrong woman, though she cares deeply for her brother. Initially engaged to a wealthy suitor Luzhin whom she plans on marrying to free her family from poverty, she later rejects him when he insults her family and proves that he is a base, and self-centered man who only wants to marry Dunya so that she will be forced to do whatever he tells her.
Later on, Dunya is wooed by a second suitor, her former employer Svidrigailov (sorry about these names, it is a Russian novel, after all). Svidrigailov is even more depraved than Luzhin. It is suggested that he has committed multiple murders, perhaps even disposing of his previous wife in this fashion. Though outwardly generous, all he does is motivated by his own sensual desires. Ruthless and thoroughly evil, he will do whatever it takes to get his way. In some sense, he is a picture of what Raskolnikov will become if he continues down the path he has set himself on.
Thankfully, Dunya wants nothing to do with Svidrigailov either and eventually falls in love with Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin. This former student is just as poor as Raskolnikov, but he handles his situation in a completely different manner, choosing to work hard and earn his money honestly. He is very kind to both Dunya and Rodya and serves as a sort of model for what Rodya could and should have done with his life.
The two women Raskolnikov kills are the conniving old pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna and her mentally “simple” sister Lizaveta. Raskolnikov had only planned on killing Alyona whom he considered to be a morally corrupt person for cheating poor people out of their money, but when Lizaveta witnesses the crime, he murders her to cover his trail. Sonya later reveals that she and Lizaveta were friends, making the death of this essentially innocent person all the more saddening.
Finally there is detective Porfiry. He is suspicious of Raskolnikov and seems to understand him as no one else in the novel does due to his training in criminal psychology. But for all his intelligence and insights into Raskolnikov’s storm-tossed soul, he is unable to produce in actual evidence to convict the guilty party since Raskolnikov, through sheer accident and not by any real skill, has committed the perfect crime.
I won’t spoil it by telling you how it all ends up, but it is quite a convoluted tale. I never was able to sympathize with Raskolnikov and so for me, this story was difficult to get through. It just felt so hopeless. He had every opportunity and reason not to commit the crime, but it was as if he were driven by some twisted logic to believe that he had to do it and, as I’ve said, he spends the rest of the novel regretting his sin. Truly a cautionary tale.
Well, that’s all for this week. Hopefully next week the Six Degrees book will be a little more uplifting. What will number 50 be? Check back then to find out!