Dreams are often so vivid, emotional, and bizarre that it is easy to confuse them with reality. Rife with hallucinatory imagery, discontinuities, and incongruities, dreams are easily accepted and quickly forgotten. Psychologist Sigmund Freud theorized that dreams are fueled by humans’ desire for wish fulfillment. He claimed that by rerouting and discharging inappropriate impulses through their manifest content, or their overarching narrative, dreams revealed the hidden meaning of one’s unconscious thoughts, drives, and desires (Myers 241).
While many neuroscientists and cognitive scientists have disputed and dismissed Freud’s theory as a “scientific nightmare” (Myers 241), Raskolnikov’s and Svidrigailov’s dreams in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment seem to provide valuable insight into their individual motives and inner conflicts. By delving into the unconscious, Raskolnikov’s and Svidrigailov’s dreams reveal aspects of their psyches and personalities that neither one can consciously recognize or explore. As a psychologically driven novel, Crime and Punishment contains a number of elaborate dream sequences.
Both Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov have very harrowing unconscious experiences in the novel. For Raskolnikov, one of the most revealing dreams is his dream about the horse, which occurs right before he murders the pawnbroker. In the dream, a young boy and his father are walking by a cemetery when they overhear a drunken man announce that he is going to beat his horse to death. What ensues is a horrific sequence of violence and commotion. The drunken man, called Mikolka, provokes laughter from a large crowd as he incessantly whips his horse, eventually beating the horse to death.
While all of this is occurring, the young boy is on the side screaming for Mikolka to stop. In examining the significance of the dream, one can see that the three principal figures in the dream all represent different facets of Raskolnikov’s personality. Literary critic Raymond J. Wilson III suggests that the drunken man, Mikolka, represents Raskolnikov’s ability to murder in cold blood, while the young boy represents his capacity for compassion and the father represents his physical, mental, and spiritual detachment ( ).
Individually, these three symbols do not seem to reveal much about Raskolnikov’s state of mind, as many people have different dimensions to their personalities. However, the fact that the three figures are so diametrically opposed to one other makes it clear that Raskolnikov is a psychologically unwell man plagued by mental . In the dream, the young boy is completely horrified by Mikolka’s jarring brutality while Mikolka merely sneers at the young boy’s compassion for the horse.
The father, completely uninvolved with both his son and Mikolka, stands on the sides contemplating how the murder of the horse concerns him in any way. The disconnect among these three figures, all very fundamental aspects of Raskolnikov’s personality, highlights the significance of Rasknolnikov’s name, which means “split. ” These reflections and associations not only foreshadow the murder that is to come, but also consolidate and add to Raskolnikov’s characterization as a psychologically “split” man with a tendency to contradict himself.
Another dream that is integral to Raskolnikov’s characterization is his dream about the old woman. Stemming from his monomania, this dream reveals Raskolnikov’s view of himself as a Napoleonic figure, or as he calls it, the “extraordinary man. ” In the dream, Raskolnikov is back at the pawnbroker’s apartment where the pawnbroker is alive and well. He goes through the motions of murdering the woman once again, but when he steps back after hitting her over the head, he sees her sitting on the floor laughing.
Deeply unsettled, he frantically tries to strike the woman on the head over and over again but each blow only produces more laughter. Unlike the dream about the horse, this dream does not emphasize who or what Raskolnikov is. Rather, this dream forces him to confront the faults of his belief by completely doing away with his hopes of surpassing mortal mediocrity. All of the assumptions he had regarding his ability to transcend humanity and avoid responsibility are thrown to the wayside by the events in the dream.
The old woman derogates and derides Raskolnikov to the point where he cannot successfully assert his will, which is the hallmark of the extraordinary man. Rather than exuding total power and control, Raskolnikov demonstrates a weakness that is intrinsically human. The dream’s deconstruction of Raskolnikov’s self-perception is what enables him to eventually confess to his crime and open up to love at the prison. By essentially destroying his inflated ego, the dream pushes him to accept his inability to become the extraordinary man and face his obstacles head on.
Just as Raskolnikov’s dream about the old woman brings about his redemption, Svidrigailov’s dream about a young girl brings about his demise. Towards the end of the novel, Svidrigailov has an interaction with Dunya in which she rejects his advances and flees, unable to kill him. After a night of restless wandering, Svidrigailov goes to sleep and has a series of dreams. In one of the dreams, he encounters a shivering young girl in a hotel. Unable and unwilling to leave her alone, he brings her to his room and wraps her in a blanket to put her to sleep.
As he gazes at her he sees her expression suddenly morph into that of “a harlot’s face, the brazen face of a venal French whore” ( ). Up until this point, only his depravity had been shown to readers. His guilt, or capability to feel guilt, had not been explored in the earlier parts of the book. This sudden emphasis on his guilt [Need to finish body paragraph] Although Freud’s theory that dreams reveal unconscious thought and feeling does not have much merit in the scientific world, Crime and Punishment validates the relevance of dreams in understanding inner thoughts and feelings.
In the novel, the dreams that the characters experience have a significant bearing on how they perceive themselves and the world around them. Their dreams reveal parts of themselves that are too difficult to acknowledge or come to terms with in any other way. Raskolnikov’s dreams shed light on his psychological instability and prompt him to reconcile the different parts of himself to be redeemed. Svidrigailov’s dreams, on the other hand, shed light on his constitutional evil and necessitate his suicide.