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Dreams in Crime and Punishment

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction: The Interplay of Dreams and Guilt in "Crime and Punishment"
  2. Freud's Theory of Dreams: A Psychological Lens
  3. The Psychic Apparatus: Id, Ego, and Superego in Dreams
  4. Raskolnikov's Inner Conflict: Dreams as Windows to the Soul
  5. The Evolution of Guilt: Raskolnikov's Dreams Over Time
  6. Conclusion: The Moral and Psychological Implications of Dreams

Introduction: The Interplay of Dreams and Guilt in “Crime and Punishment”

What are the true meaning of dreams? Why do people experience them? An Austrian neurologist from the nineteenth and twentieth century, Sigmund Freud, is the father of the Theory of Dreams. In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, Freud’s Theory of Dreams is highlighted throughout the book by revealing the characters inner secrets, desires, and problems that might have been burdening the character subconsciously; however, each of the character’s dreams tie back to one common theme: guilt.

Raskolnikov is a mentally ill man that constantly battles mentally with what is right and wrong. One thing he struggles with is the repercussions that follow with the murder of the pawn lady, until he finally confesses in the end. In order to foreshadow events to come, the author uses dreams so the reader can take a glimpse into the characters mind to see the issues they have between themselves and society.All of these segments to Freud’s theory play a key role in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. In the book, the main character, Raskolnikov, has multiple dreams that either lead up to or look back on major events that have occurred. All of these dreams have had multiple components relating to Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Dreams. Raskolnikov is a young student living in St. Petersburg, Russia that in the beginning has very anxious and introverted tendencies but also is quite awkward and taciturn with people. Throughout the characters’ progression we see that Raskolnikov shows many signs of a mental illness and would most likely be diagnosed as a psychopath. Due to his unique personality and symptoms of mental illness, the reader is given prime examples of Freud’s theory through Raskolnikov’s vivid dreams.

Freud’s Theory of Dreams: A Psychological Lens

Sigmund Freud is a credible neurologist that is most famous for his psychoanalysis of dream interpretation. This means that he studied what dreams mean both symbolically and literally. Freud explains that dreams are just your inner conscious’ desires, thoughts, and motivations. According to his theory, he believes that people are motivated strongly by sexuality or aggression, even if their outward personality does not show it; however, since many people do not show their motivations aggressively or sexually outwardly and openly, this is why these traits show up subconsciously in dreams. Freud also separates his dream theory into two separate categories: manifested and latent. In a manifested dream, this is where the person wakes up from the dream with knowledge of what happened in the dream, and latent dreams are when a person wakes up without any remembrance of their dream.

Not only did Freud believe that dreams revealed a person’s inner motives, but he also explains how “dreams are considered the guardian of sleep.” This is because dreams allow people to experience things that they fantasize about doing or accomplishing which is why sometimes people awake from dreams in order to carry out these tasks.

Later in life, Freud was referred to as the “Father of Psychoanalysis” because he started using these theories and studies to help diagnose and help people suffering from mental illnesses. He continues to describe in his theory how people who have experienced a traumatic event as a child often have anxiety in their adult lives and often the source of it is in their dreams where they symbolically relive the trauma.

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The Psychic Apparatus: Id, Ego, and Superego in Dreams

What Freud calls the “Psychic Apparatus” is another big part of his dream theory. In this he breaks up the psyche into three parts: the Id, the ego, and the superego. The Id portion of the psyche, he says, is what is responsible for a person’s instincts like survival tactics and energy. Next is the ego, this part of a person’s psyche is where a person’s goals and wants are carried out in a way that is “socially acceptable.” And Lastly, a person’s superego is the part of the mind that ensures that a person lives by moral standards. The superego plays a major part when a person feels guilty, this is because when there is inner conflict between what is right and what is wrong then the superego steps in if the wrong choice is made and creates a sense of guilt.

Raskolnikov’s Inner Conflict: Dreams as Windows to the Soul

Raskolnikov’s first dream refers to when he was with his father as a young boy. In this dream, they are walking down the street together when they see a drunk man named Mikolka and his friends abuse an old horse. The horse was already pulling a load too heavy for its age and when it failed to perform, they began to beat the horse to death. As they were beating the horse, Mikolka grabbed an axe and killed the horse in front of Raskolnikov and his father. This was foreshadowing the murder of the pawn lady, Alonya Ivanova, and the next events to come. In this dream, the horse symbolizes Alonya, Mikolka symbolizes Raskolnikov’s inner evil, and the young boy symbolizes Raskolnikov’s caring and compassionate side. In the dream, Mikolka justifies that killing the horse was necessary because it was useless to society since it could not pull the heavy cart. This parallels to Raskolnikov’s thought process as to why he killed Alonya, in both situations they thought that they did no good for the world so they believed that their deaths would actually benefit the Earth. Simultaneously, Raskolinkov’s adolescent self represents his caring and compassionate side as the book states, “suddenly he leaps up and flings himself on Mikolka, striking out in a frenzy with his fists” (Dostoevsky 57). This quote represents Raskonikov’s conscious trying to fight for what is right, but unfortunately his empathetic side did not win and this is when we see Raskolnikov’s first feeling of guilt.

Raskolnikov’s second dream occurs after the murder of Alonya, the pawn lady, and the dream is surrounding the guilt that he is enduring. In his second dream, Raskolnikov watches his elderly landlady get beaten violently by Petrovich, the police officer. While this dream is similar to his first and to the actual murder of Alonya, it is very clear that this book revolves around the paroxysm and guilt of society. Another similarity between the events is the horrific detailing that the author used to emphasize the extremity of the violence. In this dream, he vividly states “never in his life heard such weird sounds – howls, wails, grinding of teeth, blows curses” (Dostoevsky 110). As he wakes up from this terribly gruesome nightmare in consternation, we see Raskolnikov experience guilt one again; however, as the guilt consumes him Raskolnikov becomes very faint and physically ill.

The Evolution of Guilt: Raskolnikov’s Dreams Over Time

Prior to Raskolnikov’s third dream, we see him frantically worrying as he thinks that Porfiry suspects him for killing Alyona, as he is walking home from the police station with his mind spiraling because he is convinced that he will be caught, he has another iteration that sends him off of the edge. As he is walking down the street, he comes across a man that approaches him and accuses him of being the murderer. When Raskolnikov finally arrives back to his house, he is very bilious as he goes to sleep. In his third dream, he relives murdering Alyona except this time, it was not the same. The second time Raskolnikov murdered Alyona, it was even more sickening than the first time, because this time she bursted into laughter and Raskolnikov was unable to kill her no matter how violent he was. “He was overcome with frenzy and began hitting the old woman on the head with all his force, but at every blow of the axe the laughter and whispering from the bedroom grew louder and the old woman was simply shaking with mirth. He was rushing away, but the passage was full of people…”(Dostoevsky 267). This quote shows that Raskolnikov has lost his fight with guilt, now even in his dreams his guilt consumes him. Even his subconscious is mocking him and laughing at him now, because he cannot accept what he did and he has now let the guilt take over his mind. It is very evident that Raskolnikov thought at first that he was an “extraordinary” man as he impudently compared himself to killers like Stalin, but as we watch his dreams progress and his mind shut down with guilt it is quite obvious that he breaks down and is not as extraordinary and anomalous as he originally believed.

Even though Freud’s psychoanalysis proves that Raskolnikov’s actions were a product of his inner wants and desires, that might not be the only case. Throughout the text, Dostoevsky also makes it obvious that Raskolnikov suffers from mental illness. The author never bluntly states what mental state that Raskolnikov is in, however, it is clear by his actions that he has psychopathic tendencies due to his violent and antisocial behavior. It is possible that Raskolnikov’s dreams and actions were a product of his mental illness, so a jump to conclusions about his desires might not be completely accurate.

Conclusion: The Moral and Psychological Implications of Dreams

Although Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Dreams does not translate to Raskolnikov perfectly, it is evident that his dreams are partially correlated to Freud’s theory. In Raskolnikov’s first dream the symbolism behind it was obvious which leads to the belief that killing the woman was one of his inner secrets that was being foreshadowed of getting carried out. In his second dream, his selfish desire for wanting the woman dead brought him great inner punishment by his own guilt sickening him through his dreams which further proves Sigmund Freud’s theory. Lastly, Freud’s theory is proven the strongest in Raskolnikov’s third dream. In this dream, his subconscious problems come out as he is mocked and laughed at in his own dream as he attempts to kill the pawn lady repeatedly. At this point his guilt has won and he is slowly drowning in his own worry and sorrow, which proves his true feelings about his actions. Throughout the book, Raskolnikov’s true thoughts about murder change and develop as his personality and character advances. In the beginning he believed that he was helping society by killing Alyona, until his inner conscious and morality stepped in and guilt set in. Crime and Punishment is a prime example of Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Dreams because it shows the characters’ desires and the punishments they face when they carry out their actions. This also relates to society today in the way that just because you wish something to be true, does not mean it is morally right and will come without consequences.

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Dreams in Crime and Punishment. (2021, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
“Dreams in Crime and Punishment.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2021,
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Dreams in Crime and Punishment [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Aug 12 [cited 2023 Sept 25]. Available from:
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