The Role of Marmelodov in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

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A Taste of Marmeladov

In Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel, Crime and Punishment, Marmeladov is a minor character whose story is told in only a few short chapters of the first two books, and yet, Marmeladov plays an important role in the novel. Both Marmeladov and Raskolnikov are desperate men trying to function in a bleak world. Both men feel alienated in a world which has no meaning. Despite his miserable existence, Marmeladov hopes to find salvation through his anguish. Marmeladov reflects the themes of guilt and suffering that Raskolnikov later shares. Dostoevsky suggests that suffering is the only path to redemption.

Raskolnikov first meets Marmeladov at a dirty tavern. His clothes are ragged and soiled and he has a "yellow, even greenish face, swollen with constant drinking" (12). Despite this crumpled appearance, Marmeladov's "eyes seemed even to be lit with rapture" (12). The proprietor and patrons of the bar view Marmeladov as a "funnyman" (14) and an object of ridicule as he gets more inebriated, yet Raskolnikov is drawn to him even though the downtrodden Raskolnikov has, for weeks, fled all company.

Marmeladov, who recognizes a sorrow in Raskolnikov's face, has a need to tell him about his life, which has been destroyed by alcohol. He had once been "a titular councillor" (12), a low level government worker. His first wife died, leaving him with a fourteen-year-old daughter Sonya to take care of. His troubles increased when, out of pity, he married Katerina Ivanovna, a widow with three children of her own. Katerina, herself, was impoverished and saw Marmeladov as her only hope. Marmeladov knows that she did not marry him out of love, but rather out of necessity.

Marmeladov's alcoholism has not only ...

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...d for the "terrible guilt in his past" (543). Only after confessing to Sonya does he believe that he can find true redemption. Both men "could have endured everything... even shame and disgrace" (543) but instead hoped that God would forgive them because they suffered so much. Marmeladov and Raskolnikov find the "burning repentance" (544) that they are looking for.

For Dostoevsky, Marmeladov represents those tragic people who turn to destructive behaviors as an escape from reality. Dostoevsky was concerned with the suffering of those who lived in poverty. With destitution comes a loss of hope which, with alcoholism, turns into a vicious cycle of loss of self worth and destruction of the spirit. Marmeladov functions as an example of Dostoevsky's reflection that people often make moral decisions based not only upon human nature, but also upon social conditions.
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