Dreams, Devils, and Dominion:

A Study of Pride and Guilt in Dostoevsky

Jennifer Cleary

In "On Dreams," Freud asserted that feelings of guilt, if repressed from consciousness, inevitably surface in unconscious symptoms, such as nightmares or madness. Although a person may repress his conscience, the guilt is merely displaced to another part of the mind, and eventually, this repressed matter must return. In the works of Dostoevsky, a character's guilt often manifests itself in dreams by presenting the character's purely devilish self or his worst fears. Not only does the character himself assume in dreams a totally fiendish nature, but the beings he encounters do also. Whether the devil appears literally, as in Ivan Karamazov's case, or in the likeness of the character's victim, as in the cases of Raskolnikov and Stavrogin, the mere fact of the devil's emergence reveals that the character has failed to elude guilt, a human universal, despite what he thinks or says consciously. In that the character himself is responsible for his nightmare, in that he is incapable of escaping the guilt that plagues him, the character constitutes his own devil. Because he is human, he suffers guilt, and hence, cannot get away with his crime. He is not as good at being bad as he believes. What do these dreams mean, in light of the fact that they are the literary creations of an author? How does guilt effectively temper pride? We shall attempt to answer these questions in examining the crimes, the dreams, and the devils of Raskolnikov, Stavrogin, and Ivan Karamazov.

It is important when discussing a dream in a novel to distinguish between the literary and psychological implications of the dream. The dream is obviously the functional product of the author's imagination, and hence, must serve a definite purpose in the work. If examined legitimately, however, as a dream of an actual, non-fictional person, the dream bears psychological importance and reveals something about the dreamer's unconscious. In interpreting the dreams in Dostoevsky's novels, we can employ Freudian theories to delve into the character's psyche, but only in light of the fact that Dostoevsky, as author, created these dreams for a purpose, both literary and psychological. These dreams are not actual products of the unconscious, but, on the other hand, deliberate, conscious attempts to fill out a certain character's psychology.

In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov murders to declare personal sovereignty over his life and to assert his resolution, individuality, and control. In killing the moneylender, a languid being herself, he springs into action and destroys his own slothful passivity and indecision. He believes that he must act in such an extreme and decisive fashion in order to combat and nullify his crippling inertia. No medium ground exists. He must act with the strength and control of a god in order to invalidate his mortal weaknesses.

In assuming the powers of a god, however, Raskolnikov also assumes that he can transcend his humanity, and elude guilt. He desperately wants to become a "Napoleon" by murdering the old woman. According to his "superman" theory, certain all-powerful people, like Napoleon, have the right to commit crimes, to destroy the present for the sake of the future: "[T] he extraordinary man has the right . . . in himself, to permit his conscience to overstep . . . certain obstacles" (220). These "obstacles" include "ordinary" people, which the omnipotent superman can freely sacrifice for his cause. Raskolnikov repeatedly refers to the moneylender as a "louse," an annoyance, an obstacle to his freedom, in that he must murder her in order to liberate himself. This murder constitutes his own attempt to prove himself as an extraordinary man; by jolting himself from his indolence, and subsequently assuming the authority and strength of an extraordinary man with this one extreme but necessary murder, Raskolnikov believes he too can seize the power of a Napoleon, and prove himself as a godlike superman looming large over his fellow men.

But Raskolnikov is horribly wrong, and his dream after the fact proves it:

He stood over her. "She is afraid!" he thought, and stealthily withdrawing the axe from its loop he struch her on the crown of the head, once and again. But it was strange: she did not even stir under the blows; it was as if she were made of wood. He grew afraid, and stooped nearer to look at her, but she bent her head even lower. He crouched down to the floor and looked up into her face from below, looked once and froze where he was: the old woman sat there laughing, overcome with noiseless laughter, striving with all her powers to prevent his hearing it. Suddenly it seemed to him that the bedroom door had opened a crack, and that whispering and laughter were coming from there too. Madness seized him: he began frenziedly striking the old woman on the head, but with every blow of the axe the sound of whispering and laughter in the bedroom grew stronger and louder, and the old woman shook with mirth. He tried to flee, but the entrance was full of people . . . His heart laboured, his legs were rooted and would not stir . . . He tried to scream, and . . . awoke (III, 6).
This dream crushes Raskolnikov's arrogant hopes of surpassing his mortal mediocrity. Not only his victim, but also nameless, invisible masses now ridicule him as a foolish outsider. Since this alienation is made evident in Raskolnikov's dream, a product of his mind (via Dostoevsky, of course), we see that he has also successfully alienated himself from himself. He has tried to evade guilt, but succeeded in merely forcing it into his unconscious, and now, in this dream, his repressed guilt returns. The old woman taunts and alienates him in the dream, but it is Raskolnikov who is ultimately, though unconsciously, responsible for the dream. He is taunting and alienating himself. He is his own devil.

The murder demanded that Raskolnikov demonstrate power and control, exactly what he wrongly believed would set him free from weakness forever. He believed that the murder could prove his extraordinariness or even make him extraordinary. Contrast this vision of a guilt-free act of liberation and power with his dream, in which he cannot effectively act, and is mocked so eerily for his impotence. Raskolnikov stands over the woman, wielding his phallic axe, but she, and the invisible masses, merely laugh in his face. Employing a Freudian interpretation, Raskolnikov cannot perform. Confronted with what he thought would be his triumph of freedom and power, he experiences the ultimate humiliation and sign of masculine weakness. He is not active, but ineffective. He is not powerful, but weak. He is not free, but caged by his crippling paranoia, a result of his guilt.

Although Raskolnikov does successfully assert momentary power through the murder, this ensuing guilt, particular to humans, prevents him from achieving the stark, godlike indifference he craves. This guilt, this undeniable mark of his humanity, is Raskolnikov's devil; it torments him, ridiculing his futile, asinine attempt to prove himself as a Napoleon. Since he is definitively human, he innately impedes his own pursuit of godliness. His own subconscious, however manipulated for literary purposes by Dostoevsky, antagonizes him, portraying him as a weak, impotent outcast. In his attempt to assert his omnipotence, Raskolnikov has only proven himself weak and utterly human. A Napoleon would never experience these guilt-ridden dreams.

Just as Raskolnikov arrogantly trusted that he could surpass his mortal mediocrity and cast off guilt, a universal human consequence of evildoing, in Devils, Stavrogin believes he can heartlessly rape a young girl and then virtually arrange her suicide without personal consequence. Like Raskolnikov, Stavrogin conveniently "forgets" his humanity, assuming in his arrogant hubris that he can transcend his mortal self through his own will and action. But his guilt, emerging from his unconscious to disturb his dreams, reminds Stavrogin, like Raskolnikov, of his indisputably human nature. In his confession to Tikhon, similar to Raskolnikov's confession to Sonia, Stavrogin describes the dream that continuously haunts him:

I saw before me (Oh, not in reality! If only it had been real!), I saw Matryosha, emaciated, with feverish eyes, exactly as she was when she stood at my door shaking her head and raising her tiny little fist at me. Nothing had ever tortured me so! The pitiful despair of a helpless ten-year-old child with its undeveloped mind threatening me . . .but blaming only herself, of course. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I sat there until nightfall, without moving, forgetting the time. Is this what's called remorse or repentance? . . . Perhaps it's not the recollection of the act that I find so loathsome even now. Perhaps even now that recollection contains something that appeals to my passions. No--what I find intolerable is solely this image, namely, her in the doorway . . . That's what I can't stand because that's what I've been seeing ever since, almost every day. It doesn't come of its own accord; I summon it and can't help doing so, although I can't live with it (472).
Just as the old moneylender, representative of his guilt, haunts Raskolnikov's dream, reminding him of the definitive restraints of his human nature, Matryosha, the ten-year-old whom Stavrogin raped and allowed to die, now invades her rapist's dreams. Both Raskolnikov and Stavrogin may have been able to repress their guilt, but they can never escape it. The guilt gathers new energy from the energy employed in its repression, and manifests itself in unconscious symptoms. For example, Lady Macbeth tries to will herself to act beyond her nature, assuming proudly and falsely that, without personal consequence, she can oppose natural order: "Come you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty" (I, V, 40-3). She enthusiastically takes part in the murder of King Duncan, but after the fact, she is plagued by nightmares in which she can never totally cleanse her hands of Duncan's blood, and she finally descends into madness.

Similarly, the dreams of Raskolnikov and Stavrogin, marked by the appearance of their now-vindictive victims, are symptoms of the repression of their guilt. Like the victims themselves now returning, in dreams, as more powerful, threatening figures, the guilt which these victims symbolize emerges from the unconscious to likewise haunt the criminals. Raskolnikov and Stavrogin, however, effectively haunt themselves, since their guilt is their human nature reminding them that they have done wrong, and the images, devilish themselves, are actually products of their unconscious minds, which, it is essential to remember, are products of Dostoevsky's mind. Hence, the victims may appear to be the real devils in these dreams, but when examined in light of Freud's theories of dream and repression, it can be found that Raskolnikov and Stavrogin are unconsciously responsible for these devils, and hence, are the real devils themselves.

What motivates Stavrogin to commit such a random, heartless crime? Like Raskolnikov, Stavrogin makes a point of testing the limits of acceptable behavior, of acting randomly to see what people will do. Despite the opinion of many characters in the book, he is not insane, according to the last sentence of the book. So why then did he pull Gaganov around by the nose, or bite the governor's ear? Shatov questions him: "Is it true that you claimed not to see any aesthetic difference between a voluptuous, bestial prank and a heroic feat, even the sacrifice of one's own life for the benefit of humanity? Is it true that in both extremes you found identical beauty and equal enjoyment?" (II, 7, 268). Shatov hones in on Stavrogin's pretentious disrespect for boundaries, and his drive to surpass them, a trait he shares with Raskolnikov, and, in fact, with most of humanity, the very trait that allows and encourages him to rape Matryosha. Stavrogin's pride, which allows him to assume that he can rape without guilt, that he can surpass human nature, is also obvious in his influence on Kirillov and Shatov. According to Roger Anderson,

To one, he declares man's need to displace God; to the other, God's vigorous presence within each nation's unique identity. In each case he phrases a philosophical ideal in which the individual is elevated beyond limits into direct experience of cosmic wholeness (104).
Stavrogin crosses boundaries not only by incorrectly assuming that such transcendence is attainable for humans, but also by fostering in his disciples conflicting ideals. He teaches both to go beyond the restrictions of time and death, but only along different paths: Kirillov should seek to abolish God, but Shatov should pursue God. Anderson points out that the different means do not matter to Stavrogin, as long as they effect the same end:
His simultaneous experiments with both ideas come from the same source that led him to kiss other men's wives, bite ears, rape children, and keep his wife a virgin. All are variations of the same Promethean wish to deny the given, mix categories, overleap limits, and achieve the transcendent (105).
Pride allows and motivates Stavrogin to believe that he can transcend his mortality in his quest of the divine, but his dreams remind him that he cannot. Like Raskolnikov, this pursuit of godly power, in the end, only highlights his human restrictions. As a result of his pride and the associated will to transcend human nature and gain power, each commits a crime without considering consequence. Therefore, each represses this guilt, which eventually emerges from the unconscious in the form of devil-ridden dreams.

Exaggerated pride inspires Ivan Karamazov to commit a crime of sorts as well. Bolstered by his intellectual pride, Ivan trespasses on divine territory with his extravagant, athiestic theories, arrogantly assuming knowledge of the cosmos and superiority over godly forces. In Part One, cognizant, of course, of his own athiesm, he smugly asserts, "[E]very earthly State should be, in the end, completely transformed into the Church and should become nothing else but a Church" (53). Also, "There is no virtue if there is no immortality" (60), and hence, "everything is lawful." He toys with people's minds by broaching these grandiose theories on the "correct" order of Church and state, faith, and immortality, for he himself does not even believe in God.

How does this pride encourage his "crime," then? Unlike Raskolnikov and Stavrogin, Ivan's "crime" is not literal or definite, like murder or rape. He has committed a crime only in that he thinks he has committed a crime; in other words, he did not literally murder his father, but, with Smerdyakov's encouragement, Ivan comes to believe that he effected the death of his father by silently wishing for it and by preaching his lofty, nihilistic ideas. In their third meeting, Smerdyakov accuses Ivan, "You murdered him; you are the real murderer, I was only your instrument, your faithful servant Licharda, and it was following your words I did it" (590). Whether consciously or not, Ivan believes that he participated in his father's death. Thus, he might as well have actually murdered Fyodor, for he experiences the same guilt, the same psychological trauma.

Although Ivan tries to persuade himself that he is not to blame, his true feelings of guilt are evident in his dream encounter with the "devil." Freud would claim that Ivan has repressed his guilty feelings in hopes of avoiding them. He has displaced his guilt by divorcing his "good" self, the self that maintains his innocence, from his "bad" self, the devil self, the dark, doubting alter-ego who supports Smerdyakov's claim that Ivan, in fact, is to blame for his father's death. When faced with the devil, Ivan accordingly cries out, "You are the incarnation of myself, but only of one side of me . . . of my thoughts and feelings, but only the nastiest and stupidest of them" (604). He has repressed or denied his guilt, but only temporarily and only from his consciousness. His guilt lives on within his unconscious, symbolized by the devil. Just as the dreams of Raskolnikov and Stavrogin reveal their undeniable, unconscious belief in their own guilt, Ivan's encounter with his own devil in his dream, and his admission that this devil is in fact a part of himself, reveals that his guilt remains, despite his attempts to deny or repress it.

The intellectual, urbane devil of Ivan's dreams preys on his insecurities, forcing him to question and defend his innocence. Emerging from Ivan's subconscious and manifesting himself in a hallucination, the devil is both external and internal, physical and psychological. He is a physical embodiment of Ivan's deepest fears, yet he exists within Ivan himself. Raskolnikov and Stavrogin likewise encounter devils dual in nature and function; in dreams, each character continuously faces not only his own devilish self, himself as a hardened criminal in the act of commiting his crime, but also his victim, reborn as a sort of devil in dreams to psychologically punish the murderer. Ultimately, each character is his own devil; the pride that permitted him to commit such a godly action has fathered the guilt that now plagues his unconscious. Guilt is a universal throughout humankind, and merely completes the psychological equation originating with excessive pride: if one dares to assume that he can transcend his humanity and enter the divine sphere, and commits a crime accordingly, guilt, emerging unconsciously in dreams, will eventually remind him of his human roots.

Works Cited

Anderson, Roger B. Dostoevsky: Myths of Duality. Gainesvilled, University of Florida Press, 1986.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Trans. Constance Garnett. Ed. Ralph E. Matlaw. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1976.

---. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Jessie Coulson. Ed. George Gibian. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989.

---. Devils. Trans. and Ed. Michael R. Katz. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1970.