Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov: Aberrant
the Consequences of Malnutrition, Dehydration and Sleep
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime
and Punishment the protagonist, Rodion Romanovich
Raskolnikov, commits what he considers a "Rational
Murder" coupled with an opportunistic murder of great
irrationally. The latter one by an unfortunate
circumstance, an unforeseen coincidental moment in time,
the former by a confused, obsessive and grandiose plan:
To justify his protagonists actions, the cleansing the
world of a "louse," the writer provides us with a
rational set of circumstances of the situations under
which the killer plans and executes his deed.
But more: Is it rationality?
Is it an act of murder taken with just altruistic
justification all in the name of society’s needs? Or is
there more to consider? Does the author offer the reader
and the character alternatives for aberrant behavior?
Dostoevsky immediately draws
our attention to the deliberate deprivation that his
protagonist suffers in the abject poverty of his
situation. We learn that many months prior to the
beginning of the story that Raskolnikov has had little
to drink, little to eat and scarcely sleeps. When his
does sleep it occurs in irregular patterns of time.
Dostoevsky’s own words in his letter to N.A. Katkov
outline his first thoughts on Crime and Punishment.
"A young man expelled from the university, a petty
bourgeois by background, living in the most extreme
poverty, decides out of lightheadedness and instability
of thinking to extricate himself from his deplorable
situation with one bold stroke. He has become obsessed
with badly thought out ideas which happens to be in the
air." The idea, which he is inhaling, in large gulps and
gasps, The Extraordinary Man Theory or Man of Destiny
Theory gives credence and legitimacy to the murderous
consequences of Napoleon’s act of deadly aggression.
Rodion Romanovich has
recurrent periods of circumspect thinking... His inner
thoughts are resplendent with suspicions for those whom
he is in direct and indirect contact. His outer behavior
and internal reflections are erratic and confused. His
mental and physical conditions are, without doubt,
reflective of a person who is malnourished, dehydrated,
and sleep deprived. He is subjected to weather
conditions of extreme heat: the mean temperature in
which he will malfunction is 99.5 degrees. As the
narrative progresses, this sweltering environment adds
harmfully to behavior patterns evident in his internal
and external responses to people, places and events.
During the nine and a half days that the greater part
of the Raskolnikov chronicle takes place, careful noting
indicates that the food intake could be estimated at
less than one thousand calories. These calories are
mostly made up of stale bread and potato or cabbage
soup. His liquid intake is scant, sips of water or tea,
a glass of beer or a dram of vodka. He admits to being a
hypochondriac, encouraging and enjoying his debilitation
as an excuse for his mental and physical conditions.
Specifically and utilizing the
1951 translation of "Crime and Punishment" by Constance
Garrett to validate this assessment:
"…an overstrained, irritable
condition, verging on hypochondria…isolated from his
fellows…crushed with poverty…. He had lost all desire…."
All worked painfully upon…overwrought nerves." Further
on, "…speaking into complete blankness of mind…not
observing what was about him…a habit of talking to
himself, conscious that his ideas were in a tangle and
that he was very weak; for two days he had scarcely
tasted food.: "…he knew how many steps…exactly seven
hundred and thirty." "… a sinking heart and a nervous
tremor….Raskolnikov went out in complete confusion."
"…was tormented by a burning thirst."
More explicitly, throughout
Chapter 5 part 4 there are unremitting descriptions of
episodes of irrational behavior and the resultant
physical expositions of an unstable state: "sick and
overstrained imagination… trembling… overstrained
nerves… suspicions… nerves quivering… thoughts grown to
monstrous proportions… considerable irritation…parched
lips… throbbing heart… hot all over…dizziness…
chills…fell into an actual frenzy… hysterical laughter…
he felt everything going around… delirium and confused
Again and again the author
reminds us of Raskolnikov’s condition with phrases
relating to his broken sleep, irritability, ill-temper,
nervous irritation, suspicions of the underlying intent
of those he comes into contact, fevers, shivering,
weakness, fainting, hostility, headaches, loss of
consciousness, and psychological instability. The reader
cannot dismiss nor forget; Dostoevsky is unrelenting.
Thus, consider: all the
physical and mental descriptions of his character and
his resultant deeds could be related to the effects of
long term sleep deprivation, malnutrition and
Robert Rappaport, MD in his FDA
article "Sleepless Society" reports that "…lack of sleep
can cause memory and mood problems…and may affect immune
function, which could lead to an increased incidence of
infection and other illnesses."
In the 1999 Medscape article
"Clinical Frontiers in Sleep/Psychiatry Interface"
states"…sleep deprivation may precipitate mania,
increased body temperature, major depressive episodes,
mood disorders, and other peculiar syndromes both mental
and physical. This condition will thrust a subject into
Furthermore, contemplate this
character’s lack of liquid intake: he is dehydrated.
Dehydration or the loss of water content and essential
body salts (electrolytes) result in: fatigue, low blood
pressure, dizziness, confusion, irrationality, and
Factoring into the above is
his scant food intake that places him in a chronic state
of malnutrition. Malnutrition equals: Fatigue,
headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate,
anxiety, negative feelings about self-worth, impotence,
and hostility directed at himself and the outer world.
The condition of Pellagra from malnutrition adds to the
above inflictions: dementia, schizoid-psychoses,
phobias, sleep irregularities and obsessional behaviors
Dercum Disease may also be present and manifest itself
with bodily weakness, fainting and pain.
These issues do explain the
unusual behavior of our protagonist. Rather than isolate
and attribute his absolute justification for a rational
murder on a grand philosophical and social platform; it
would be sensible to incorporate his behavioral
decisions on the many months of physical deprivation.
The author has blended this scenario into the script for
The Epilogue tells us of the
eventual recovery of his health and mental faculties. He
returns to rational behavior and complete physical
stability. His life becomes more regulated with food,
liquids, and sleep. Thus the author offers readers and
censors an escape clause for his underlying criticisms
of society, church, man in a new age, and the
instability of ideas in a time of divergent thinking.