The Theories of Porfiry in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment


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The Theories of Porfiry in Crime and Punishment    

 

Raskolnikov commits a murder. He has a theory. Porfiry is an investigator. He too has a theory. Porfiry's is getting closer and closer to winning. Porfiry Petrovich believes many things about criminal nature--and therefore he believes these things will happen to Raskolnikov, the man that he has pinned as the perpetrator or the murder. He uses the comparison of a butterfly moving closer to a candle, the fact that if he lets the criminal wallow in mixed freedom and terror he will be able to complete a mathematical proof of the crime, and that the criminal's best move is to tell the truth, during which endeavor he will ultimately lie and fumble his plan. Perhaps Porfiry Petrovich is an excellent wax maker. He also has some very powerful and resilient matches. He uses these skills to light and let burn a candle that keeps Raskolnikov coming to him, so far twice, on the naive pretense of seeing about his father's watch. We know that Raskolnikov no longer has any care for things in the material world. He deposits all that he stole under a rock. He gave Katerina's family 25 roubles. Money and goods are not a concern for Raskolnikov. He is there because of the undeniable force of the light which Porfiry is relentlessly shining on him. Raskolnikov fits this aspect of Porfiry's theory expertly. Unlike Porfiry did to Raskolnikov's theory, Raskolnikov can find no holes to pick in Porfiry's.

Descartes believed that mathematics was the only thing that really existed with certainty besides his own existence, his own mind. Porfiry strongly believes in the benefit of having a "mathematical" proof in order to determine the guilty nature of a suspect. Like Descartes, Porfiry is able to doubt all things, such as circumstantial evidence and inclination, in order to await the completion and realization of a "mathematical formula" that leads directly to the true perpetrator of the crime. Porfiry's equation though is not yet balanced. This is why Raskolnikov is still spared for a time. The eventual arrival of Nikolay disrupts this drive to develop a concrete mathematical theory for Porfiry.

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Porfiry believes that a criminal best defense is to continue telling the truth in all matters that he may without giving away everything. He holds that this is a benefit to the criminal for a time, until he slips up, lies, and must double back on what he has said. Then this policy becomes an advantage for the investigator. Porfiry then has the upper hand. All of these things make up the crux of Porfiry's theory with which he pursues the truth about Raskolnikov.

 

 


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