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A Foreshadowing Dream

Snippet from

Crime and Punishment  

- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Psychological Drama

Context: This snippet explores the complex psychology of the unconscious mind acting against the murderous intents of the conscious self. Raskolnikov is planning to murder and rob an elderly banker lady so that he could come out of poverty. But he has a dream that makes him rethink his plans.


Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a former law student, lived in extreme poverty in a tiny, rented room in Saint Petersburg. Isolated and antisocial, he had abandoned all attempts to support himself, and was brooding obsessively on a scheme he had devised to murder and rob an elderly banker lady. On the pretext of pawning a watch, he visited her apartment, but remained unable to commit himself.

Raskolnikov dreamed a frightening dream. He dreamt he was back in his childhood, in their little town. He is a child about seven years old, walking in the countryside with his father on the evening of a holiday. It is a gray and stifling day, the country is exactly as he remembered it; indeed he recalled it far more vividly in his dream than he had done in memory. The little town stands on a level flat as bare as the hand, not a willow near it; only in the far distance, a wood lies, a dark blur on the very edge of the horizon. A few paces beyond the last market garden stands a tavern, a big tavern, which had always aroused in him a feeling of aversion, even of fear, when he walked by it with his father. There was always such a crowd there, such shouting, laughter and swearing, such hideous hoarse singing and often fighting. Drunken and scary mugs were always hanging about the tavern. He used to cling close to his father, trembling all over when he met them. Near the tavern the road becomes a track, always dusty, and the dust is always so black. It is a winding road, and about a hundred paces further on, it turns to the right to the graveyard. In the middle of the graveyard is a stone church with a green cupola where he used to go to mass two or three times a year with his father and mother, when a service was held in memory of his grandmother, who had long been dead, and whom he had never seen. On these occasions they used to take on a white dish tied up in a table napkin a special sort of rice pudding with raisins stuck in it in the shape of a cross. He loved that church, the old-fashioned icons with no setting and the old priest with the shaking head. Near his grandmother’s grave, which was marked by a stone, was the little grave of his younger brother who had died at six months old. He did not remember him at all, but he had been told about his little brother, and whenever he visited the graveyard he used religiously and reverently to cross himself and to bow down and kiss the little grave. And now he is dreaming that he is walking with his father past the tavern on the way to the graveyard; he is holding his father’s hand and looking with dread at the tavern. A peculiar circumstance attracts his attention: there seems to be some kind of festivity going on here, there are crowds of gaily dressed townspeople, peasant women, their husbands, and riff-raff of all sorts. All are singing, all are drunk, and near the entrance of the tavern there is a cart, but a strange cart. It is one of those big carts usually drawn by heavy cart-horses and laden with casks of wine or other heavy goods. He always liked looking at those great cart-horses, with their long manes, thick legs, and slow even pace, drawing along a perfect mountain with no appearance of effort, as though it were easier going with a load than without it. But now, strange to say, in the shafts of such a cart he sees a thin little sorrel beast, one of those peasants’ nags which he had often seen straining their utmost under a heavy load of wood or hay, especially when the wheels were stuck in the mud or in a rut. And the peasants would beat them with whips so cruelly, so cruelly, sometimes even about the nose and eyes, and he felt so sorry, so sorry for them that he almost cried, and his mother always used to take him away from the window. All of a sudden there is a great uproar of shouting, singing and the balalaika, and from the tavern a number of big and very drunken peasants come out, wearing red and blue shirts and coats thrown over their shoulders.

“Get in, get in!” shouts one of them, a young thick-necked peasant with a fleshy face red as a carrot. “I’ll take you all, get in!”

But at once there is an outbreak of laughter and exclamations in the crowd.

“Take us all with a beast like that!”

“Why, Mikolka, are you crazy to put a nag like that in such a cart?”

“And this mare is twenty if she is a day, pals!”

“Get in, I’ll take you all,” Mikolka shouts again, leaping first into the cart, seizing the reins and standing straight up in front. “The bay has gone with Matvey,” he shouts from the cart—“and this brute, pals, is just breaking my heart, I could kill her. She’s just eating her head off. Get in, I tell you! I’ll make her gallop! She’ll gallop!” and he picks up the whip, preparing himself with relish to flog the little mare.

“Get in! Come along!” The crowd is laughing. “Do you hear, she’ll gallop!”

“Gallop indeed! She has not had a gallop in her for the last ten years!”

“She’ll jog along!”

“No being sorry for her, pals, bring a whip each of you, get ready!”

“That’s right! Give it to her!”

They all clamber into Mikolka’s cart, laughing and making jokes. Six of them get in and there is still room for more. They haul in a fat, rosy-cheeked woman. She is dressed in red cotton, in a pointed, beaded headdress and warm boots; she is cracking nuts and laughing. The crowd round them is laughing too, and really, how could they help laughing? That wretched nag is to drag all the cartload of them at a gallop! Two young lads in the cart get whips ready right away to help Mikolka. With the cry of “Go!” the mare tugs with all her might, but far from galloping, can scarcely move forward; she is struggling with her legs, gasping and shrinking from the blows of the three whips showered upon her like hail. The laughter in the cart and in the crowd is redoubled, but Mikolka flies into a rage and thrashes the mare furiously, with quickened blows, as though he thinks she really can gallop.

“Let me get in, too, pals,” shouts a young man in the crowd, his appetite aroused.

“Get in, all get in,” cries Mikolka, “she’ll pull you all. I’ll beat her to death!” And he thrashes and thrashes at the mare, beside himself with fury.

“Father, Father,” he cries, “Father, what are they doing? Father, they are beating the poor horse!”

“Come along, come along!” says his father. “They are drunk and foolish, having fun; come away, don’t look!” and he tries to lead him away, but he tears himself away from his hand, and, beside himself with horror, runs to the horse. But the poor horse is already in a bad way. She is gasping, pausing, then tugging again and almost falling.

“Beat her to death!” cries Mikolka, “it’s come to that. I’ll do her in!”

“What are you about, are you a Christian, you devil?” shouts an old man in the crowd.

“Did anyone ever see anything like it? A wretched nag like that pulling such a cartload,” adds another.

“You’ll kill her!” shouts the third.

“Stay out! It’s my property. I do as I like. Get in, more of you! Everyone get in! She’ll go at a gallop, I say! . . . ”

All of a sudden laughter breaks into a roar and covers everything: the mare, roused by the shower of blows, in her impotence had begun kicking. Even the old man could not help smiling. To think of a wretched little nag like that trying to kick!

Two lads in the crowd snatch up whips and run to the mare to beat her about the ribs, one on each side.

“Lash her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cries Mikolka.

“Give us a song, pals,” shouts someone in the cart and everyone in the cart joins in a riotous song, jingling a tambourine and whistling in the refrains. The woman goes on cracking nuts and laughing.

... He runs beside the mare, runs in front of her, sees her being whipped across the eyes, right in the eyes! He is crying, his heart is rising, his tears are streaming. One of the men gives him a cut with the whip across the face, he does not feel it. Wringing his hands and screaming, he rushes up to the gray-headed old man with the gray beard, who is shaking his head in disapproval. One woman seizes him by the hand and wants to take him away, but he tears himself from her and runs back to the horse. She is almost at the last gasp, but begins kicking once more.

“I’ll teach you to kick,” Mikolka shouts ferociously. He throws down the whip, bends forward and picks up from the bottom of the cart a long, thick shaft, takes hold of one end with both hands and with an effort brandishes it over the mare.

“He’ll crush her,” was shouted round him. “He’ll kill her!”

“It’s my property,” shouts Mikolka and brings the shaft down with a swinging blow. There is a sound of a heavy thud.

“Thrash her, thrash her! What’s the matter?” shout voices in the crowd.

And Mikolka swings the shaft a second time and a blow falls a second time on the spine of the luckless mare. She sinks back on her haunches, but lurches forward and tugs forward, tugs with all her force, first on one side and then on the other, trying to move the cart. But the six whips are attacking her in all directions, and the shaft is raised again and falls a third time, then a fourth, with heavy measured blows. Mikolka is furious that he cannot kill her at one blow.

“She’s a tough one!” they shout.

“She’ll fall in a minute, pals, you’ll see, and that’s the end of her!” shouts an admiring spectator in the crowd.

“Get an axe, hell! Finish her off,” shouts a third.

“Eh, eat the flies! Make way!” Mikolka screams frantically, throws down the shaft, stoops down in the cart and picks up an iron crowbar. “Look out,” he shouts, and with all his might deals a stunning blow at his poor mare. The blow crashes down; the mare staggers, sinks back, tries to pull, but the bar falls again with a swinging blow on her back and she falls on the ground as if all four legs had been knocked out from her at once.

“Finish her off,” shouts Mikolka and, beside himself, leaps out of the cart. Several young men, also red and drunk, seize anything they come across—whips, sticks, poles, and run to the dying mare. Mikolka stands on one side and begins dealing random blows to her back with the crowbar. The mare stretches out her muzzle, draws a long breath and dies.

“You butchered her!” someone shouts in the crowd.

“Should have galloped!”

“My property!” shouts Mikolka, with bloodshot eyes, brandishing the bar in his hands. He stands as though regretting that he has nothing more to beat.

“No mistake about it, you are not a Christian,” many voices are shouting in the crowd.

But the poor boy is already beside himself. He makes his way screaming through the crowd to the sorrel nag, puts his arms round her bleeding dead muzzle and kisses it, kisses the eyes and the lips . .. Then he suddenly jumps up and flies in a frenzy with his little fists out at Mikolka. At that instant his father, who had long been running after him, snatches him up and carries him out of the crowd.

“Come along, come! Let’s go home,” he says to him.

“Father! Why did they . . . kill . . . the poor horse!” he sobs, but his breath catches and the words come in shrieks from his panting chest.

“They are drunk . . . fooling around . . . it’s not our business!” says his father. He puts his arms round his father but he feels choked, choked. He tries to draw a breath, to cry out—and wakes up.

He woke up sweating, gasping for breath, his hair soaked with perspiration, and stood up in terror.

“Thank God, that was only a dream,” he said, sitting down under a tree and drawing deep breaths. “But what is it? Is it some fever coming on? Such a hideous dream!”

His whole body felt broken; darkness and confusion were in his soul. He rested his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands.

“Good God!” he cried, “can it be, can it be, that I will really take an axe, that I will strike her on the head, split her skull open . . . that I will tread in the sticky warm blood, break the lock, steal and tremble; hide, all spattered in the blood . . . with the axe . . . Good God, can it be?”

He was shaking like a leaf as he said this. The next night, he went to the house of the elderly lady and he killed her with his axe. Then he managed to escape with a handful of her possessions.


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