The novel is rife with coincidence. Do events happen “just because,” “by accident”? Or are people beginning to suspect Raskolnikov of the murders? The occurrence and recurrence of events in the text develops a complex argument on the nature of free will, or the extent to which humans determine the course of their lives. Raskolnikov asks himself repeatedly whether he ever consciously chose to kill the two women. And Dostoevsky’s language, with its insistence on “automatic” or “mechanical” action, makes it appear that Raskolnikov and other characters do not determine their own fates.
Nearly every character in the novel has a brush with coincidence or free will. The murder itself is defined by a coincidence. If there were no painters working on the second floor, Raskolnikov would not have been able to escape via their diversion (the painters get into an unrelated argument just after the murder). Raskolnikov runs into Marmeladov in a tavern, although Raskolnikov rarely drinks or visits bars. Marmeladov is later killed by a wagon while Raskolnikov is out walking. Sonya, Marmeladov’s daughter, later becomes Raskolnikov’s friend and confidante. Svidrigailov, husband to the wealthy Marfa, is Dunya’s employer; Svidrigailov nearly seduces Dunya, blames her for “seducing” him, and has her fired. Svidrigailov later turns up in Petersburg and, sitting behind a wall in his apartment, adjacent to Sonya’s, he overhears Raskolnikov’s admission of guilt.
Coincidence has two purposes in the text. First, paranoiacs tend to spot “coincidence” in chance events and derive causation from them: to Raskolnikov all events seem to point to others noticing his guilt. By placing coincidences throughout the text, Dostoevsky increase the novel’s dramatic pressure and mimics the constriction of Raskolnikov’s mental state. Second, novels themselves are exercises in coincidence and free will. Dostoevsky never provides a single, clear motive for Raskolnikov’s murders, which both makes the murders seem more real—more plausible as mistake-riddled human activities—and resists an easy “moral” at the novel’s end. For Dostoevsky, novels must represent all the messiness of life: its coincidences, false starts, and blind alleys.
Coincidence and Free Will ThemeTracker
Coincidence and Free Will Quotes in Crime and Punishment
Details, details above all! . . . It’s these details that ruin everything always . . .
. . . as he explained, a husband ought to owe nothing to his wife, but it is much better if a wife looks upon her husband as a benefactor.
If he had ever once managed to analyze and finally decide everything down to the last detail . . . at that point he would most likely have renounced it all as absurd, monstrous, and impossible.
And if we look straight, in all ways—will there be many good people left? No, in that case I’m sure that I, with all my innards, would be worth about as much as one baked onion!
"And what if it was I who killed the old woman and Lizaveta?"
"But can it be?"
"Admit that you believed it! Right? Am I right?"
What I’m driving at . . . is that your complete recovery now depends chiefly on you yourself. . . . I should like to impress upon you that it is necessary to eliminate the original, so to speak, radical causes that influenced the onset of your ill condition.
. . . only peasants or the most inexperienced novices deny everything outright and all down the line. A man with even a bit of development . . . will certainly try to admit as far as possible all the external and unavoidable facts.
You’ve all been saying that I was mad . . . and just now I imagined that perhaps I really am mad and was only seeing a ghost!
No, it’s my fault most of all! I was tempted by his money, but I swear, brother—I never imagined he could be such an untrustworthy man!
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave . . . . Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. . . . Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou has heard me, . . . and he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth.
One little word, Rodion Romanovich, sir; concerning everything else, it’s as God wills, but all the same we’ll have to ask you a thing or two formally, sir . . . so we’ll be seeing each other right enough, sir.
Dunya! This Razumikhin, Dmitri Prokofych, is a very good man . . . He is a practical man, hard-working, honest, and capable of deep love . . . .
I’m wicked, I see that . . . but why do they love me so, when I’m unworthy of it!
At the beginning of their happiness there were moments when they were both ready to look at those seven years as if they were seven days. He did not even know that a new life would not be given him for nothing, that it still had to be dearly bought, to be paid for with a great future deed . . . .