Raskolnikov’s Dream in “Crime & Punishment”

From Chapter 5 of “Crime and Punishment” by the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky” as translated into English by Constance Garnett, this posting shares a dream that seemingly crystallized and set into stage the details on a forthcoming murder by the protagonist in this esteemed work of fiction.

In a morbid condition of the brain, dreams often have a singular
actuality, vividness, and extraordinary semblance of reality. At times
monstrous images are created, but the setting and the whole picture are
so truth-like and filled with details so delicate, so unexpectedly, but
so artistically consistent, that the dreamer, were he an artist like
Pushkin or Turgenev even, could never have invented them in the waking
state. Such sick dreams always remain long in the memory and make a
powerful impression on the overwrought and deranged nervous system.

Raskolnikov had a fearful dream. He dreamt he was back in his childhood
in the little town of his birth. He was a child about seven years old,
walking into the country with his father on the evening of a holiday. It
was a grey and heavy day, the country was exactly as he remembered it;
indeed he recalled it far more vividly in his dream than he had done in
memory. The little town stood on a level flat as bare as the hand, not
even a willow near it; only in the far distance, a copse lay, a dark
blur on the very edge of the horizon. A few paces beyond the last market
garden stood a tavern, a big tavern, which had always aroused in him a
feeling of aversion, even of fear, when he walked by it with his father.
There was always a crowd there, always shouting, laughter and abuse,
hideous hoarse singing and often fighting. Drunken and horrible-looking
figures were hanging about the tavern. He used to cling close to his
father, trembling all over when he met them. Near the tavern the road
became a dusty track, the dust of which was always black. It was a
winding road, and about a hundred paces further on, it turned to the
right to the graveyard. In the middle of the graveyard stood a stone
church with a green cupola where he used to go to mass two or three
times a year with his father and mother, when a service was held in
memory of his grandmother, who had long been dead, and whom he had never
seen. On these occasions they used to take on a white dish tied up in a
table napkin a special sort of rice pudding with raisins stuck in it in
the shape of a cross. He loved that church, the old-fashioned, unadorned
ikons and the old priest with the shaking head. Near his grandmother’s
grave, which was marked by a stone, was the little grave of his younger
brother who had died at six months old. He did not remember him at all,
but he had been told about his little brother, and whenever he visited
the graveyard he used religiously and reverently to cross himself and
to bow down and kiss the little grave. And now he dreamt that he was
walking with his father past the tavern on the way to the graveyard; he
was holding his father’s hand and looking with dread at the tavern. A
peculiar circumstance attracted his attention: there seemed to be
some kind of festivity going on, there were crowds of gaily dressed
townspeople, peasant women, their husbands, and riff-raff of all sorts,
all singing and all more or less drunk. Near the entrance of the tavern
stood a cart, but a strange cart. It was one of those big carts usually
drawn by heavy cart-horses and laden with casks of wine or other heavy
goods. He always liked looking at those great cart-horses, with their
long manes, thick legs, and slow even pace, drawing along a perfect
mountain with no appearance of effort, as though it were easier going
with a load than without it. But now, strange to say, in the shafts of
such a cart he saw a thin little sorrel beast, one of those peasants’
nags which he had often seen straining their utmost under a heavy load
of wood or hay, especially when the wheels were stuck in the mud or in
a rut. And the peasants would beat them so cruelly, sometimes even
about the nose and eyes, and he felt so sorry, so sorry for them that
he almost cried, and his mother always used to take him away from the
window. All of a sudden there was a great uproar of shouting, singing
and the balalaïka, and from the tavern a number of big and very drunken
peasants came out, wearing red and blue shirts and coats thrown over
their shoulders.

“Get in, get in!” shouted one of them, a young thick-necked peasant with
a fleshy face red as a carrot. “I’ll take you all, get in!”

But at once there was an outbreak of laughter and exclamations in the
crowd.

“Take us all with a beast like that!”

“Why, Mikolka, are you crazy to put a nag like that in such a cart?”

“And this mare is twenty if she is a day, mates!”

“Get in, I’ll take you all,” Mikolka shouted again, leaping first into
the cart, seizing the reins and standing straight up in front. “The bay
has gone with Matvey,” he shouted from the cart–“and this brute, mates,
is just breaking my heart, I feel as if I could kill her. She’s just
eating her head off. Get in, I tell you! I’ll make her gallop! She’ll
gallop!” and he picked up the whip, preparing himself with relish to
flog the little mare.

“Get in! Come along!” The crowd laughed. “D’you hear, she’ll gallop!”

“Gallop indeed! She has not had a gallop in her for the last ten years!”

“She’ll jog along!”

“Don’t you mind her, mates, bring a whip each of you, get ready!”

“All right! Give it to her!”

They all clambered into Mikolka’s cart, laughing and making jokes. Six
men got in and there was still room for more. They hauled in a fat,
rosy-cheeked woman. She was dressed in red cotton, in a pointed, beaded
headdress and thick leather shoes; she was cracking nuts and laughing.
The crowd round them was laughing too and indeed, how could they help
laughing? That wretched nag was to drag all the cartload of them at a
gallop! Two young fellows in the cart were just getting whips ready to
help Mikolka. With the cry of “now,” the mare tugged with all her might,
but far from galloping, could scarcely move forward; she struggled with
her legs, gasping and shrinking from the blows of the three whips which
were showered upon her like hail. The laughter in the cart and in the
crowd was redoubled, but Mikolka flew into a rage and furiously thrashed
the mare, as though he supposed she really could gallop.

“Let me get in, too, mates,” shouted a young man in the crowd whose
appetite was aroused.

“Get in, all get in,” cried Mikolka, “she will draw you all. I’ll beat
her to death!” And he thrashed and thrashed at the mare, beside himself
with fury.

“Father, father,” he cried, “father, what are they doing? Father, they
are beating the poor horse!”

“Come along, come along!” said his father. “They are drunken and
foolish, they are in fun; come away, don’t look!” and he tried to draw
him away, but he tore himself away from his hand, and, beside himself
with horror, ran to the horse. The poor beast was in a bad way. She was
gasping, standing still, then tugging again and almost falling.

“Beat her to death,” cried Mikolka, “it’s come to that. I’ll do for
her!”

“What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?” shouted an old man
in the crowd.

“Did anyone ever see the like? A wretched nag like that pulling such a
cartload,” said another.

“You’ll kill her,” shouted the third.

“Don’t meddle! It’s my property, I’ll do what I choose. Get in, more of
you! Get in, all of you! I will have her go at a gallop!…”

All at once laughter broke into a roar and covered everything: the mare,
roused by the shower of blows, began feebly kicking. Even the old man
could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little beast like that
trying to kick!

Two lads in the crowd snatched up whips and ran to the mare to beat her
about the ribs. One ran each side.

“Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka.

“Give us a song, mates,” shouted someone in the cart and everyone in the
cart joined in a riotous song, jingling a tambourine and whistling. The
woman went on cracking nuts and laughing.

… He ran beside the mare, ran in front of her, saw her being whipped
across the eyes, right in the eyes! He was crying, he felt choking, his
tears were streaming. One of the men gave him a cut with the whip across
the face, he did not feel it. Wringing his hands and screaming, he
rushed up to the grey-headed old man with the grey beard, who was
shaking his head in disapproval. One woman seized him by the hand and
would have taken him away, but he tore himself from her and ran back to
the mare. She was almost at the last gasp, but began kicking once more.

“I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouted ferociously. He threw down
the whip, bent forward and picked up from the bottom of the cart a long,
thick shaft, he took hold of one end with both hands and with an effort
brandished it over the mare.

“He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”

“It’s my property,” shouted Mikolka and brought the shaft down with a
swinging blow. There was a sound of a heavy thud.

“Thrash her, thrash her! Why have you stopped?” shouted voices in the
crowd.

And Mikolka swung the shaft a second time and it fell a second time
on the spine of the luckless mare. She sank back on her haunches, but
lurched forward and tugged forward with all her force, tugged first on
one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six
whips were attacking her in all directions, and the shaft was raised
again and fell upon her a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured
blows. Mikolka was in a fury that he could not kill her at one blow.

“She’s a tough one,” was shouted in the crowd.

“She’ll fall in a minute, mates, there will soon be an end of her,” said
an admiring spectator in the crowd.

“Fetch an axe to her! Finish her off,” shouted a third.

“I’ll show you! Stand off,” Mikolka screamed frantically; he threw down
the shaft, stooped down in the cart and picked up an iron crowbar. “Look
out,” he shouted, and with all his might he dealt a stunning blow at the
poor mare. The blow fell; the mare staggered, sank back, tried to pull,
but the bar fell again with a swinging blow on her back and she fell on
the ground like a log.

“Finish her off,” shouted Mikolka and he leapt beside himself, out of
the cart. Several young men, also flushed with drink, seized anything
they could come across–whips, sticks, poles, and ran to the dying
mare. Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the
crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.

“You butchered her,” someone shouted in the crowd.

“Why wouldn’t she gallop then?”

“My property!” shouted Mikolka, with bloodshot eyes, brandishing the bar
in his hands. He stood as though regretting that he had nothing more to
beat.

“No mistake about it, you are not a Christian,” many voices were
shouting in the crowd.

But the poor boy, beside himself, made his way, screaming, through the
crowd to the sorrel nag, put his arms round her bleeding dead head and
kissed it, kissed the eyes and kissed the lips…. Then he jumped up and
flew in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka. At that instant
his father, who had been running after him, snatched him up and carried
him out of the crowd.

“Come along, come! Let us go home,” he said to him.

“Father! Why did they… kill… the poor horse!” he sobbed, but his
voice broke and the words came in shrieks from his panting chest.

“They are drunk…. They are brutal… it’s not our business!” said his
father. He put his arms round his father but he felt choked, choked. He
tried to draw a breath, to cry out–and woke up.

He waked up, gasping for breath, his hair soaked with perspiration, and
stood up in terror.

“Thank God, that was only a dream,” he said, sitting down under a tree
and drawing deep breaths. “But what is it? Is it some fever coming on?
Such a hideous dream!”

He felt utterly broken: darkness and confusion were in his soul. He
rested his elbows on his knees and leaned his head on his hands.

“Good God!” he cried, “can it be, can it be, that I shall really take an
axe, that I shall strike her on the head, split her skull open… that I
shall tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble;
hide, all spattered in the blood… with the axe…. Good God, can it
be?”

He was shaking like a leaf as he said this.

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3 Responses

  1. Hi, good post. I have been wondering about this issue,so thanks for writing. I will definitely be coming back to your blog.

  2. Really interesting blog thanks!

    • thank you! i was able to read this feedback ONLY tonight!

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