Which minor character serves as a foil to a main character in Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment?  

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The character of Razumikhin also acts as a foil to Raskolnikov. Indeed, Crime and Punishment is replete with foils for the story's protagonist. Razumikhin's name comes from the Russian word for "reason." This gives us a clue as to his personality. But unlike his friend, his reason is ultimately grounded in faith, and not a nihilistic worldview. He's an ex-student, and like Raskolnikov lives in considerable poverty. Despite this, he appears much more comfortable in his own skin, much more at ease in a society from which Raskolnikov has become isolated. In fact, Razumikhin's kind and considerate nature serves to highlight just how isolated his friend really is. This is what makes him a foil.

At one point in the book Razumikhin gets drunk and starts behaving boorishly. Yet the next day he is incredibly embarrassed at his behavior and feels guilty about it. It's this genuine feeling of remorse that sets him apart from Raskolnikov. Razumikhin has acted foolishly, and even then it was only because he was drunk. Whereas Raskolnikov has committed two murders and yet still hasn't shown any genuine remorse.

The simplicity and nobility of Razumikhin's character stand as a marked contrast to the deep psychological complexity of his friend:

Razhumikhin had the gift of being able to express his character instantly and entirely, no matter what mood he happened to be in, and people quickly knew with whom they were dealing.

People know where they stand with Razumikhin, the kind, rational, well-adjusted young man whom everyone naturally trusts. By contrast, no one can really trust Raskolnikov as he doesn't trust anyone himself. Razumikhin's innate goodness means that he has no hesitation helping out Raskolnikov's family after he has abandoned them. And he turns out to be much more protective towards Dunya than her brother; his protectiveness towards her illuminates Raskolnikov's relative indifference. Razumikhin's kindness in relation to Dunya is of much greater value than anything that Raskolnikov has ever done for her. And to think that one of Raskolnikov's justifications for murdering the old money-lender was to help his sister out financially and prevent her from having to sell herself.

Razumikhin's extraordinary kindness destroys any vestige of nobility that may have attached itself to Raskolnikov's murderous act. He, in his own way, has shown Raskolnikov the true path, providing him with an insight into what he ought to have done.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is full of troubled characters, all of whom suffer from those troubles; however, not all of them react in the same way. A foil is any character who serves as a contrast to another in order to highlight certain characteristics. In this novel, Sonya Marmeladova serves as a foil to the protagonist, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.

The main character is Raskolnikov, a young man (twenty-three years old) who has recently quit his university studies. He is broke and suffering mental anguish, presumably stemming from his poverty. In his rather demented state, he comes to believe he is a superhuman who does not have to follow the laws of humanity. He kills two innocent women and suffers surprisingly few pangs of conscience for his crimes. He blames his impoverished state for his actions and his behavior grows more erratic and deranged as the novel progresses.

Sonya also lives a life of poverty. Her father is a drunken civil servant, and Sonya is forced to become a prostitute in order to support her stepmother's children. Unlike Raskolnikov, however, she does not become jaded and cynical. Despite her immoral profession, Sonya is a pure and innocent young girl. Raskolnikov is drawn to her and ultimately confesses his crimes to her. Though she is horrified, she forgives him and becomes the motivation and inspiration for his journey to redemption.

These two characters, in somewhat similar situations, respond in completely different ways to their circumstances. Sonya's innocence serves as a clear foil to Raskolnikov's guilt.

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Crime and Punishment

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