What are examples of the role of the subconscious in the Crime and Punishment? Focus on the role of dreams and nightmares in the novel.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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According to Freud, dreams are where our subconscious thoughts and desires truly express themselves. If we want to know who we really are, we should pay very close attention indeed to our dreams and what happens in them. This is certainly the case for Raskolnikov, whose dreams betray him, in the sense that they reveal he is not without a conscience and that he does suffer guilt after all. This is shown most clearly when Raskolnikov is confronted by his victim in his dream. In the novel, Raskolnikov desires to be like Napoleon and to resemble a kind of Nietzchean superman who is able to be godlike and act without conscience, overcoming his moral scruples. However, the dream he has of his victim suggests otherwise, revealing his true humanity:

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

Note how this dream depicts not only his victim, but also numerous outsiders, laughing and jeering his attempt to become godlike. He realises in his dream that he does not act in a moral vacuum, and in the figure of his victim he is forced to concede that he feels guilt in just the same way as anybody else. It is in the realm of the subconcious that Raskolnikov is forced to admit his own humanity and sees that his illusion of achieving a godlike status where he is not subject to the same moral code as everybody else is nothing more than a dream. Raskolnikov believed that the deliberate act of murder was enough to separate him from the masses, and yet, as the dream displays, he is shown to be impotent and unable to harm his victim, just as his murder has not proven his godlike status. Dreams then are very important ways in which Dostoevsky chooses to reveal the true character of Raskolnikov, and to mock his ambitions and hopes. 

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