Alcohol Intoxication

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Raskolnikov and Marmeladov talking and drinking together


Fyodor Dostoevsky presents the motif of alcoholism which is prominent in Crime and Punishment. Alcohol intoxication symbolically depicts an illness characterized as a silent suffering that specifically plagued the Russian lower class. Dostoevsky combats his and the society’s ravages of drunkenness in his novels through his characterization of hopeless drunk alcoholics, such as Marmeladov and Svidrigailov, and in his personal life through epileptic seizures between 1838 to 1843 which were triggered by lack of sleep, overwork and predisposition to alcohol consumption (Frank, 31)[1]. The lack of constrain on alcohol and intoxication resulted from vodka becoming a big business in the 19th century Russia making 200 million rubles from alcohol trade, thus, marking the alcoholic beverage as an “important source of government revenues in this period (19th century) and the government had, therefore, a huge stake in the success and expansion of the trade” (Christian, 471)[2]. While Dostoevsky conceived and worked with on ideas of Crime and Punishment, he also worked on an another project titled The Drunkards that dealt with alcoholism in the 19th century of his society to “the present problem of alcoholism… present it in all its branches the depictions of families, the education of children under such conditions, etc. etc” (Frank, 30)[3]. Dostoevsky does not present the positive aspects of alcohol but the catastrophic terrors through the recurring theme and subplot regarding Marmeladov’s family, the woman on the bridge and through Raskolnikov’s dream.

Sonya visiting Marmeladov as he dies on his deathbed

Marmeladov in Crime and Punishment

The motif of alcoholism in Crime and Punishment evokes Marmeladov’s confessions, memories and implements profound feelings of existential crisis from his atrocious realities (Kosciolek)[4] as quoted “And the more I drink the more I feel it. That’s why I drink too. I try to find sympathy and feeling in drink.... I drink so that I may suffer twice” (Dostoevsky, 30)[5]. Marmeladov succumbs to isolation and madness that roots from his alcoholism which sends him down an existential crisis of suffering. Marmeladov’s drunkenness is not only a source for him to escape his impoverished reality but also the reason for his family’s poverty, thus, leading Sonya to become a prostitute. Drunkenness further depicts the motif of punishment where Marmeladov accepts eternal suffering to repent for his crimes of afflicting his family with hardships. Marmeladov becomes a finalized character due to alcoholism which leads to his inevitable death by a carriage, thus, abandoning any hope for a transformation to his character.

The bridge scene and Raskolnikov’s dream

Dostoevsky also links alcoholism to suicide, affliction and weakness through the portrayal of the woman’s suicide on the bridge “she’s drunk herself out of her sense” (Dostoevsky, 165)[6]. Even though the woman sees Raskolnikov, she “obviously saw nothing and recognized no-one” (Dostoevsky, 165)[7]  thus, a drunken state disrupting one’s balance, judgement and awareness of their surrounding resulting in the descend into a pitied illness. Further parallelism of alcoholism to violence is through Raskolnikov’s morbid dream of drunken peasants whipping an old horse which illustrates pure barbarism, suffering and pain for their personal enjoyment. The motif of alcoholism in the novel is a contributing factor to crimes through the depiction of violence, self affliction by the woman’s suicide and affliction on other animals by drunken peasants. Overall, alcoholism becomes the motif of erosion of mental state, especially of Marmeladov and the woman on the bridge, which makes them indistinguishable from insanity, courageous to confessing, harbouring violent acts and becoming man of action so as to drive oneself into suicide.

  1. Frank, Joseph (1996). Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0691015872.
  2. Christian, Davic. "Vodka and Corruption in Russia on the Eve of Emancipation". Slavic Review. 46: 471–488 – via JSTOR.
  3. Frank, Joseph (1996). The Miraculous Years, 1865-1871. Princeton University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0691015872.
  4. Kosciolek. "FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY - 'A LITERARY CLASSIC OF ALCOHOLISM'". Slave Orientalis. 55: 165–171 – via CEJSH.
  5. Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2018). Crime and Punishment. Om Books International. p. 30. ISBN 9352763165.
  6. Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2018). Crime and Punishment. Om Books International. p. 165. ISBN 9352763165.
  7. Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2018). Crime and Punishment. Om Books International. p. 165. ISBN 9352763165.