“TINTERN ABBEY” AND RASKOVNIKOV: MEMORY’S CONTRASTING CONSEQUENCES
By Sarah Baugher
Word count: 1801
Summary: A discussion of “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” and Crime and Punishment.
William Wordsworth’s poem, “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey,” and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel, Crime and Punishment, exhibit the two extreme effects that memory can have on the mind and the heart. The poet of “Tintern Abbey” uses selective diction to express the uplifting emotional effects that a memory has on the persona, thus causing a favorable attitude towards the memory. Raskolvnikov is the main persona of focus in Crime and Punishment. In the beginning of the novel, he commits a murder and the memory of this action haunts him throughout the remainder of the story, consuming his mind and building a barrier around his heart. The persona of “Tintern Abbey” expresses the intense joy and elation that can be associated with memories, while in Crime and Punishment, Raskolvnikov embodies the extremely detrimental effect that memories can have on the mind and the heart.
In “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth conveys a peaceful and calm tone that lends to a lighthearted emotion through his use of specific diction. Beginning with a description of the landscape of the memory, Wordsworth describes the sound of the water traveling down a mountain as “a sweet inland murmur” (Wordsworth 4). He also says that the landscape is connected “with the quiet of the sky” (8). These two phrases evoke in the reader thoughts of quiet sounds that create a sense of peace. Later in this stanza Wordsworth says that “wreathes of smoke/ [are] Sent up, in silence…” (18). Smoke rising to the sky is always silent, thus the phrase “in silence” is unnecessary, but included to add emphasis on the quiet and peacefulness of the scene (18). This selective diction clearly conveys the peaceful and calming atmosphere of the place being remembered.
These peaceful thoughts expressed through the tone bring comfort and joy to the persona which leads to a favorable attitude towards that memory. In line 28 the persona says that “in hours of weariness, sensations sweet.” This is the first correlation between the memory and comfort. Then, beginning in line 40, the persona expands on how the recollection of the memory lightens the burdens of the world when he says, “In which the heavy and the weary weight/ of all this unintelligible world/Is lighten’d” (40-42). Directly after this the persona states that this evokes a “serene and blessed mood,” adding to the support of the peacefulness that the memory brings (42). Later in the stanza, the persona describes how these memories are brought alive through dreams; “we are laid asleep/In body, and become a living soul…” (45-46). These lines are explaining that the more alive the memories are the more life they breathe into the individual who is remembering. In the lines following these, “an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,/we see into the life of things,” it is seen that the peace brought by this memory allows the persona to see deeper and clearer into life (48-50). In the third stanza the persona again discusses turning to the memory in times of trouble, stating,
“how oft,/in darkness, and amid the many shapes/of joyless day-light; when the fretful stir/Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,/Have hung upon the beatings of my heart,/ How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee…How often has my spirit turned to thee!” (51-57 & 59).
The close meaning and proximity of the lines “How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee” and “How often has my spirit turned to thee” greatly emphasize the idea that during the trouble mentioned in the previous lines the persona goes to the memory for comfort because it brings “pleasure…[and] pleasing thoughts” (65). “Tintern Abbey” clearly exhibits the positive effects that memory can produce.
In contrast to the peaceful and happy emotions experienced by the persona in “Tintern Abbey,” the memory of the murder that Raskolvnikov, the primary character in Crime and Punishment, carries within himself causes an intense emotion of desolation which later becomes hostility. In the beginning of Chapter 2, Raskolvnikov awakes at 2:00 a.m. the morning after the murder. After frantically concerning himself with hiding any traces of evidence, he realizes that “even memory, even the simple power of reflection, was deserting him, had begun to torment him unbearably” (Dostoevsky 85, 86). He then questions whether this torment is the beginning of his punishment, and indeed it is. Later in this chapter, Raskolvnikov’s desolation intensifies when the murder is discussed at the police station.
The narrator explains that Raskolvnikov becomes “tormentingly conscious of a dreary feeling of eternal loneliness and estrangement” (98). His heart has become empty due to the effects of the memory of the murder haunting him. This feeling of emptiness continues into the next chapter even after Raskolvnikov disposes of the stolen goods as exhibited when he says, “to the devil…with the new life” (104). Through saying this, Raskolvnikov is manifesting his complete loss of hope brought on by the emotions coupled with the memory of the murder. Raskolvnikov, himself, even realizes that the torment is coming from within; “I have been tormenting myself” (105). Memories of the murder that Raskolvnikov committed haunt him through their emotional effects.
Raskolvnikov’s desolate and hostile emotions begin to build walls around his heart, causing him to further isolate himself from society. He first senses this new barrier when he is at the police station the day after the murder. As he spends more time conversing with people he realizes that “he could never again communicate with these people in a great gush of feeling,..or in any way whatever” (98). This realization of the necessity of his silence closes Raskolvnikov off from the world even more than he was closed off before the murder. At first this isolation causes him great sadness, but his emotions soon turn into anger. In Part 2 Chapter 2, after he hides what he has stolen, a change occurs. He becomes aware of a
“new and irresistible sensation of boundless, almost physical loathing for everything round him, an obstinate, hateful, malicious sensation, was growing stronger and stronger with every minute. He loathed everyone he met” (105).
After this moment, many of Raskolvnikov’s social interactions are hostile. For example, when speaking with Razumikhin, who is attempting to offer him help, Raskolvnikov says, “I don’t want anything, do you hear, anything at all…I want nobody’s help or pity…I myself alone…” (106). Up to this point, Raskolvnikov has been receiving financial help from his mother and never shows disdain for it. In fact, he has been out of school and work for an extended period of time and has made no effort to sustain himself financially in order to terminate the help received from his mother. Raskolvnikov was content to receive help from others until his emotions triggered by the memory of the murder caused hostility within him.
Later in the novel, Raskolvnikov’s need for isolation begins to make social interactions tormenting. In Part 2 Chapter 3, when Razumikhin and Nastasya are showing Raskolvnikov his new clothes, he thinks to himself, “‘They take so long to go away and leave me alone’” (125). Later, in Chapter 7 of Part 2, Raskolvnikov is reunited with his mother. This reunion should be a joyful occasion, but the torment of the memory of the murder steals the joy. When his mother and sister greet him they “flung themselves towards him” but Raskolvnikov did not return the embrace (186). He instead “stood like one dead” because an “unbearable thought has struck him” (186). This unbearable thought is the realization that he cannot love his mother and sister freely or fully because of the walls that the memory of the murder is building around his heart. Since Raskolvnikov cannot reciprocate the love shown to him by his mother and sister, their very presence becomes a torment to him and he begins to shout, “‘don’t torment me!…don’t torture me! Enough! Please go away!’” (188). He is not only separating himself from his family, but also Sonya. He even has moments of “bitter hatred for Sonya” and requests that she does not visit him while he is in prison (391). Raskolvnikov’s relationships are destroyed due to the tormenting isolation that his memory of the murder is imposing upon him.
As Raskolvnikov journeys closer to confessing the murder, he begins to return to a deeper affectivity. During an encounter with his mother in Part 3 Chapter 3 Raskolvnikov, while still begging his mother to forget about him completely, is able to utter the words “I love you” (300). He has not been free enough to speak these words since the murder. In Part 6 Chapter 7, during his final time spent with his mother before he confesses to the murder, Raskolvnikov gains even more freedom in speaking as he says to his mother, “your son loves you more now than himself…I shall never cease to love you…” (494). Then, as he is going down the hall leaving his mother for the final time he tells Razumikhin, “don’t leave them [his mother and sister]” (301).
Through this action Raskolvnikov is expressing his love for his mother and sister. His growth in affectivity continues during his time in prison, specifically at one moment when he catches a glimpse of Sonya watching and waiting for him. At this moment “it was as if something pierced his heart” (525). This piercing is love more fully entering into his heart. A short time later Sonya ends up at Raskovnikov’s side when he is doing prison work, and as he remembers this moment later, he experiences the positive impact that memories can have as seen in “Tintern Abbey,” because “everything, even his crime, even his sentence and his exile, seemed to him now, in the first rush of emotion, to be something external and strange, as if it had not happened…” (527).
The novel ends with the beginning of “the story of the gradual renewal of man” (527). By the final externalization of the memory of the murder through the formation of a new, positive memory, Raskolvnikov is ready to begin a new life full of freedom, community, and love.
Memory’s powerful influence on the mind and heart can cause both positive and detrimental effects as exhibited in “Tintern Abbey” and Crime and Punishment. In “Tintern Abbey,” the persona gains intense joy and peace through memory, while Raskolvnikov’s memory in Crime and Punishment isolates him from others. Once Raskolvnikov’s memory is replaced by the positive memory of Sonya, his heart and mind are freed, thus displaying the contrasting effects of memories.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980. Print.
Wordsworth, William. “Lines Written a few Miles from Tintern Abbey.” Lyrical Ballads. London: J. & A. Arch, 1798. Print.