The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder

Plot Summary

Part One: Perhaps an Accident

The first few pages of the first chapter of The Bridge of San Luis Rey explain the book’s basic premise: this story centers on an event that happened in Lima, Peru, at noon of Friday, June 12, 1714. A bridge woven by the Incas a century earlier collapsed at that particular moment, while five people were crossing it. The collapse was witnessed by Brother Juniper, a Franciscan monk who was on his way to cross it. Curious about why God would allow such a tragedy, he decides to take a scientific approach to the question. He sets out to interview everyone he can find who knew the five victims. Over the course of six years, he compiles a huge book. Part One foretells the burning of the book that occurs at the end of the novel, but it also says that one copy of Brother Juniper’s book survives and is at the library of the University of San Marco, where it sits neglected.

Part Two: the Marquesa de Montemayor

The second section focuses on one of the victims of the collapse: Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor. She was the daughter of a cloth merchant, an ugly child who eventually entered into an arranged marriage and bore a daughter, Clara, whom she loved dearly. Clara was indifferent to her mother, though, and married a Spanish man and moved across the ocean. Doña María visits her daughter, but when they cannot get along, she returns to Lima. The only way that they can communicate comfortably is by letter, and Doña María pours her heart into her writing, which becomes so polished that her letters will be read in schools for hundreds of years after her death.

Doña María takes as her companion Pepita, a girl raised at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas. When she learns that her daughter in Spain is pregnant, Doña María decides to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of SantaMaría de Cluxambuqua. Pepita goes along as company and to supervise the staff. When DoñaMaría is out at the shrine, Pepita stays at the inn and writes a letter to her patron, the Abbess, complaining about her misery and loneliness. DoñaMaría sees the letter on the table when she gets back and reads it. Later, she asks Pepita about the letter, and Pepita says she burned it because it was not brave to write it. DoñaMaría has new insight into the ways in which her own life has lacked bravery, but the next morning, returning to Lima, she and Pepita are on the bridge when it collapses.

Part Three: Esteban

Esteban and Manuel are twins who were left at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas as infants. The Abbess of the convent, MadreMaría del Pilar, developed a fondness for them as they grew up. When they became older, they decided to be scribes. They are so close that they have developed a secret language that only they understand. Their closeness becomes strained when Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole.

The Perichole flirts with Manuel and swears him to secrecy when she retains him to write letters to her lover, the Viceroy. Esteban has no idea of their relationship until she turns up at the twins’ room one night in a hurry and has Manuel write to a bullfighter with whom she is having an affair. Esteban encourages his brother to follow her, but instead Manuel swears that he will never see her again.

Manuel cuts his knee on a piece of metal and it becomes infected. The surgeon instructs Esteban to put cold compresses on the injury: the compresses are so painful that Manuel curses Esteban, though he later remembers nothing of his curses. Esteban offers to send for the Perichole, but Manuel refuses. Soon after, Manuel dies.

When the Abbess comes to prepare the body, she asks Esteban his name, and he says he is Manuel. Gossip about his ensuing strange behavior spreads all over town. He goes to the theater but runs away before the Perichole can talk to him; the Abbess tries to talk to him, but he runs away, so she sends for Captain Alvarado.

Captain Alvarado goes to see Esteban in Cuzco and hires him to sail with him. Esteban agrees. He wants his pay in advance in order to buy a present for the Abbess. The Captain offers to take him back to Lima to buy the present, and at the ravine, the Captain goes down to a boat that is ferrying some materials across the water. Esteban goes to the bridge and is on it when it collapses.

Part Four: Uncle Pio

Uncle Pio acts as Camila Perichole’s maid, and, in addition, "her singing-master, her coiffeur, her masseur, her reader, her errand-boy, her banker; rumor added: her father." The story tells of his background. He has traveled the world engaged in a variety of businesses, most related to the theater or politics, including conducting interrogations for the Inquisition. He came to realize that he had just three interests in the world: independence; the constant presence of beautiful women; and work with the masterpieces of Spanish literature, particularly in the theater.

He becomes rich working for the Viceroy. One day, he discovers a twelve-year-old café singer, Micaela Villegas, and takes her under his protection. Over the course of years, as they travel from country to country, she becomes beautiful and talented. She develops into Camila Perichole, the most honored actress in Lima.

After years of success, Perichole becomes bored with the stage. The Viceroy takes her as his mistress, and she and Uncle Pio and the Archbishop of Peru and, eventually, Captain Alvarado meet frequently at midnight for dinner at the Viceroy’s mansion. Through it all, Uncle Pio is faithfully devoted, but as Camila ages and has three children by the Viceroy she focuses on becoming a lady, not an actress. She avoids Uncle Pio, and when he talks to her she tells him to not use her stage name.

When a small-pox epidemic sweeps through Lima, Camila is disfigured by it. She takes her son Jaime to the country. Uncle Pio sees her one night trying hopelessly to cover her pock-marked face with powder: ashamed, she refuses to ever see him again. He begs her to allow him to take her son and teach the boy as he taught her. They leave the next morning. Uncle Pio and Jaime are the fourth and fifth people on the bridge to Lima when it collapses.

Part Five: Perhaps an Intention

Brother Juniper works for six years on his book about the bridge collapse, trying various mathematical formulae to measure spiritual traits, with no results. He compiles his huge book of interviews, but a council pronounces his work heresy, and the book and Brother Juniper are burned in the town square.

The story shifts back in time to the day of a service for those who died in the bridge collapse. The Archbishop, the Viceroy, and Captain Alvarado are at the ceremony. At the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, the Abbess feels, having lost Pepita and the twin brothers, that her work will die with her. Camila Perichole comes to ask how she can go on, having lost her son and Uncle Pio. Doña Clara comes: throughout the book she has been in Spain, and no one in Lima knows her. As she views the sick and poor being taken cared for at the convent, she is moved. The novel ends with the Abbess’s observation: "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."


Search for Knowledge

After witnessing the collapse of the bridge, Brother Juniper does not embark on a quest to find the physical causes that would explain why a structure that has stood for a thousand years would give out at that particular time. He takes such tragedy as a part of life, like disease and old age. Instead of concerning himself with physics, which is not his field of expertise, Brother Juniper takes a theological approach. He is determined to use scientific methods to try to understand God’s will. He creates a scale for measuring such abstract moral values as piety and goodness, and he applies his scale to people who have suffered from tragedy and those who have not, in order to find the proper relation between them. Because the bridge collapse is such a freak accident with a limited number of victims, he feels that the event poses a rare opportunity to conduct his study with a manageable sampling.

Even though the lives of five people represent a small group, Brother Juniper finds out that there are so many minute facets to their lives that nothing can be measured. He compiles thousands of pages of information but is not able to draw any satisfactory conclusions from them. He does not find commonality between the lives of those killed and so is not able to point to any particular characteristic that would mark these individuals for tragedy.

Though Brother Juniper’s line of inquiry is fruitless, the book does not leave the search for knowledge completely unfulfilled. It ends with the suggestion that there is, after all, some reason for an otherwise senseless tragedy: the event brings together people such as Doña Clara, Camila Perichole, and the Abbess of the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, who would otherwise not have any relationship to each other, and it gives hope that the Abbess’s work with the poor and suffering will be continued. Though this knowledge gives meaning to an event after it has happened, it is no good for predicting, as science attempts, when a similar event is going to occur.

Parental Love

Another theme in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, the relationship between doting parents and ungrateful children, is established early in the novel, in the story of the Marquesa de Montemayor, who leads a lonesome life in Lima, pining away for attention from her daughter, Doña Clara, even though she receives no love in return. This parental devotion is reflected in the relationship between Camila Perichole and her son, Don Jaime, whom she treats kindly but holds at a distance. Wilder does not show her to be unloving, but she is more concerned with appearances than with expressing her affection.

The fathers in this novel present similar contrasts. Captain Alvarado is explained to be ruled by the memory of his dead daughter, so devoted to her that even in her absence she is the driving force behind his every moment. The Viceroy, on the other hand, is unmoved by the death of his son Don Jaime in the bridge collapse, concerning himself with public appearances at the memorial service, wondering how much sorrow to show.

The story is also filled with symbolic parent-child relationships. The Abbess, of course, since she is in charge of the orphanage, has a parental role in the upbringing of Pepita, Manuel, and Esteban. Uncle Pio behaves like a father to Camila and, at the end of his story, is ready to assume a similar role toward her son Don Jaime: ironically, Camila rejects him as strongly as Doña Clara rejects her own mother, also out of social embarrassment. The orphans attach themselves to parental figures when Esteban lets himself fall under the guidance of Captain Alvarado and Pepita becomes fiercely devoted to the Marquesa, although she treats Pepita badly.


In literature, an epiphany is a sudden realization that allows a character to view the world in a completely new way. Some of the characters in this book have epiphanies before their deaths, and some do not. For instance, just before going to the bridge, Doña María, the Marquesa de Montemayor, realizes that she has not been brave in the past, an insight that cuts through the self-delusions that allowed her to hide her embarrassing lifestyle from herself. Similarly, the novel hints that Captain Alvarado’s explanation to Esteban that "Time keeps passing by" appears to have stopped Esteban’s suicide and given him a reason to go on in spite of his grief for his brother Manuel, even though a catastrophe takes his life just minutes later. Madre María del Pilar, the Abbess, is falling into despair that her life’s work will be for nothing before realizing, in a flash, that the appearances of Doña Clara and Camila Perichole at the convent constitute a sign that there is a connection between all people dead and living.

The one notable exception in this book is Brother Juniper, who devotes his life to the search for understanding and, in the end, receives none. Though he compiles his book with good intention, the accusations of the religious tribunal that finds against him make him doubt his own motives. He prays for someone to believe in him, but dies without knowing that a delegation supporting his views has come. Upon his death, he is even afraid to call out to God, being too unsure of his right to do so because he might be evil.



Captain Alvarado

Captain Alvarado is a world traveler, known to many of the characters in the novel. Uncle Pio brings him into the group that has frequent midnight dinners at the estate of the Viceroy, and the Marquesa de Montemayor writes about him in a letter to her daughter. The Abbess of the Convent Santa María Rosa de la Rosas sends for him when she hears that Esteban is grieving the loss of his twin brother Manuel, knowing that both boys have sailed with the Captain before. The Captain goes to Esteban and convinces him to not commit suicide, consoling him, "It isn’t for long, you know. Time keeps going by. You’ll be surprised at the way time passes."

The force driving Captain Alvarado is that he once had a daughter, who died while he was away at sea. The Marquesa says about him in her letter, "You will laugh at me, but I think he goes about the hemispheres to pass the time between now and his old age."

Archbishop of Lima

The Archbishop is an epicure, more concerned with good food and good wine than with salvation. He is part of the group that meets at the Viceroy’s mansion each evening for long, all-night dinners, to discuss politics and philosophy. He considers himself to be an amateur philologist, so when he hears about the secret language that Manuel and Esteban use for speaking to each other, he calls them to teach it to him, but when he sees how embarrassed they are about it he allows them to leave.

Doña Clara

Clara is the daughter of Doña María. DoñaMaría loves her dearly and centers her life on her daughter, though Clara is, for the most part, disinterested in her mother and even somewhat embarrassed by her. When she is old enough to marry, Clara weds a Spanish nobleman and moves to Spain. Her mother visits her there once, but they do not get along, so their primary means of communication is through letters, which take six months in transit each way by ship.

Doña Clara makes her first appearance in the book at the very end, when she shows up at the Convent of Santa María Rosa de la Rosas on the day that there is to be a memorial for her mother and the other victims of the bridge collapse. Following the Abbess through the convent, she sees the sick and old people who are cared for there. The Abbess expects her to leave, but she stays, looking at the wretched people whom she has never been so near in her privileged life, learning about suffering that she never understood before.

Conde Vincente D’abuirre

The husband of Doña Clara has little to do in this novel. At one point, his amusement at the letters written by his mother-in-law, the Marquesa de Montemayor, is mentioned. Also, the Viceroy forces his mistress, Camila Perichole, to apologize after she has made fun of the Marquesa because he has business in Spain and he knows that Conde Vincente is a very powerful figure there.

Marquesa de Montemayor

See Doña María

Don Andrés de Ribera

The Viceroy, Don Andrés, has had a hard life, and is a broken-down old man with a high title. He is crippled with gout, a widower without children. He hires Uncle Pio to look after secret affairs for him, and through Uncle Pio he meets Camila Perichole and takes her as his mistress. She adores him.

When she sings a song that insults the Marquesa de Montemayor, Don Andrés forces her to apologize for three reasons: to keep peace in Lima; to humble his mistress because he suspects her of cheating on him with a matador; and to curry favor with the Spanish court, to which the Marquesa’s son-in-law belongs.

At the memorial service for the victims of the bridge collapse, the Viceroy is very conscious of people looking at him, expecting for him to grieve for his dead son Don Jaime. He wonders where the boy’s mother, the Perichole, is, having no contact with her.

Abbess Madre María Del Pilar

The Abbess, head of the Convent SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas, is instrumental in the stories of two victims of the bridge collapse. In addition to being in charge of the orphanage, she runs a hospital for the old, sick, and infirm. The narrative refers to her as "that strange genius of Lima."

The Abbess raises the orphan Pepita and decides to give her a chance at a worldly education by sending her off to be the companion of the Marquesa de Montemayor. She also raises the twins, Manuel and Esteban, of whom she is very fond, even though she is not generally fond of men.

After the bridge collapse kills Pepita and Esteban, the Abbess is left forlorn. She has lost two of her favorite people, and she foresees that, once she herself is dead, there will be no one to run the convent and care for the poor. This conclusion becomes uncertain at the end, though, when the previously haughty actress Camila Perichole comes to her for consolation and the rich Doña Clara, who ignored her own mother most of her life, shows an interest in helping the poor. The Abbess sees how a tragedy can bring together people who would otherwise have no connection.


Esteban and Manual are twins who were abandoned at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas as infants. They are inseparable, traveling the world as sailors and developing a secret language that is understood only by them.

One day, when the Perichole comes to their house to request Manuel write a letter for her to her lover, Esteban notices that Manuel is in love with her. This drives a wedge through their close relationship, but Esteban tells his brother to follow her; instead, Manuel declares that his infatuation with her is over and that he will never see her again.

Later, an injury on Manuel’s leg becomes infected. Manuel is in so much pain that he curses Esteban’s efforts to heal the wound, damning him to hell. Manuel eventually dies, and Esteban acts crazy, shunning all people and giving his name as "Manuel" when asked.

An old friend, Captain Alvarado, finds Esteban drinking in a restaurant and invites him to sail the world with him. Esteban agrees, as long as he can be kept constantly busy, so that he will not be reminded with his brother. The next morning, he says that he has changed his mind and that he cannot leave Peru, but the Captain reminds him that he had expressed interest in buying a present for the Abbess of the orphanage who raised him. He goes to his room, and the Captain follows him there just in time to stop him from hanging himself. They leave, and while Esteban is on the bridge it collapses and he is killed.

Don Jaime

Don Jaime is the only son of the Perichole. He is a sickly child, which is the main reason that his mother remains at her villa in the mountains, away from Lima. He dies in the bridge collapse when Uncle Pio is taking the boy to Lima to live as his student for a year.

Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper is the focus of the first and last chapters of the novel. He can be considered the protagonist of the book, even though his appearances are few and brief. He is a Franciscan monk, in Peru to convert Indians to Catholicism when he witnesses the collapse of the bridge. Being a religious man, he wonders why God would make such a tragedy occur, and he sets about to explore the lives of the victims of the collapse so that he can better understand what standards God holds for humanity.

Brother Juniper has a scientific mind, and he believes that theology should be held to the same standards of inquiry as the other sciences. A talk with an old school friend who has become a hardened skeptic leads him to devise a chart that rates people according to goodness, piety, and usefulness, a system that he tries out during a plague at the town of Puerto, calibrating his scale by applying the same standards to people killed by the plague and people who have survived. He finds out that no such standard is helpful in measuring the moral attributes of those who die early.

After his inquiry into the bridge collapse has proven inconclusive, a panel of judges examines Brother Juniper’s work and declares it to be heretical. The book is burned in the town square, and Brother Juniper is sentenced to be burned too. The night before his execution, he thinks about why he is being punished when all he wanted to do was to help the church. He finds no reason for his death, and the narrator says that there were many in the crowd who believed in him. He goes to his death thinking that St. Francis, at least, would support his work.


Manuel and Esteban are twins who were abandoned as infants at the Convent of SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas. In childhood they developed a secret language that no one but the other twin can understand. They are scribes. While copying a script at the theater, Manuel falls in love with Camila Perichole. She has him write letters for her to her lovers.

When his twin brother finds out that Manuel is in love with the Perichole, Manuel is so embarrassed that he swears he will not see her again. He proves good to his word when she sends a servant for him and he refuses to go.

Manuel cuts his knee and it becomes infected. The doctor tells Esteban to treat it with cold compresses. Every time Esteban puts a compress on the wound, the pain is so intense that Manuel curses at Esteban, damning him to hell, even though they have always been inseparable. Eventually, Manuel dies of the infection.

Doña María

DoñaMaría is the first of the bridge collapse victims to have a section of the book dedicated to her. She is introduced as a legendary figure, famous for her letters, which now, two hundred years after her death, are well-known examples of the writing of her time. The grand obsession in her life is her daughter Clara who, as soon as she is old enough, marries and moves away to Spain.

Doña María is known around Lima as an eccentric. She is a secret drinker. The Abbess Madre María del Pilar looks at her and sees a "grotesque old woman." When the Perichole sings an insulting song about her at the theater and is forced to apologize, she initially thinks that DoñaMaría is being gracious when she claims to know nothing of the incident, but, as the scene continues and Doña María makes a fool of herself, it becomes clear even to the Perichole that the old lady really is oblivious.

Doña María takes a girl from the orphanage, Pepita, as her companion. Pepita can see how the other servants take advantage of the Marquesa, mocking her behind her back and stealing from her, but Doña María remains ignorant of what they think of her until one day, when her entourage is at a shrine in the hills praying for the baby, which she has heard, almost casually, that her daughter had. There, Doña María happens upon a letter Pepita has written, explaining how unhappy she is. Doña María later offers to mail the letter for her, but Pepita says that she burned it because writing such a letter was not courageous: from this, Doña María receives sudden insight into courage, and she realizes just how much her own life has lacked courage. She decides to start living differently just as the bridge collapses beneath her and Pepita, killing them.


Pepita was left as an orphan at the Convent Santa Maria Rosa de la Rosas. The Abbess grooms Pepita to be her successor, and in order to give her a broader education and introduce her into wealthy society the girl is sent to be a companion at the house of the Marquesa de Montemayor. Pepita hates it there. Not only is her mistress a vain, drunken, ignorant woman, but Pepita is left to deal with the household staff’s dishonesty as they steal from the Marquesa, make fun of her behind her back, and use her house for their own pleasures. They pick on Pepita and make her the victim of practical jokes. Still, she remains faithful to her duty.

The day before her death, Pepita is so miserable about her life with the Marquesa that she writes a letter to the Abbess, detailing her complaints. She destroys the letter, but not before the Marquesa has seen it on the table. When the Marquesa asks why she did not send the letter, Pepita holds tight to her suffering and says that the letter betrayed a lack of courage in her.

Camila Perichole

Wilder bases this character on the title character of La Perichole, a Jacques Offenbach opera that opened in Paris in 1868 (more than a hundred years after The Bridge of San Luis Rey takes place). It concerns a Peruvian street singer who is brought to the palace to amuse the Viceroy. Her last name means "half-breed [b―]." Her first name is taken from the 1848 novel Camille: The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils (the younger).

Throughout the story, the woman born Micaela Villegars is referred to as, alternately, "Camila" or "the Perichole." She is discovered by Uncle Pio at the age of twelve in a café, and he decides to make her a singing star. He trains her and takes her around the world, so she can sing in different countries while honing her craft. When they end up in Lima she is lauded as the best singer and actress in Peru. Through her relationship with him she meets the Viceroy, who is a much older man; she becomes his mistress and has three children, a boy and two girls, with him.

The Perichole is a vain social climber. During a break in a concert, she sings a song making fun of the Marquesa de Montemayor, a rich eccentric, mocking her for the drinking she thinks is secret and her devotion to her daughter. At age thirty, the Perichole decides to quit the stage and be a lady. She stops associating with Uncle Pio, and she makes up family members with classy social backgrounds.

Her vanity is assaulted when she contracts smallpox, which leaves her face pockmarked. She tries unsuccessfully to hide the scars with makeup. She agrees to allow Uncle Pio to take her son Jaime to Lima, to train the boy as he trained her, but they are killed in the bridge collapse.

In the end, the Perichole is humbled, arriving at the Convent SantaMaría Rosa de la Rosas without makeup, kneeling before the Abbess there to ask for religious counsel.

Uncle Pio

Uncle Pio is the subject of the fourth section of the book. He is a successful, self-made man, having been in a variety of businesses and traveled the world. He does secret work for the Viceroy. Still, nothing makes him happy until he takes young Micaela Villegas under his control and trains her to be the popular singer, Camila Perichole. His association with her allows him to follow his three interests: being a free and independent man; being surrounded by beautiful women; and working in or near the theater.

He brings the Perichole up in society, introducing her to his friends. Eventually, she decides to turn her back on her singing career, and she distances herself from Uncle Pio. He finds excuses to see her. Once, after her looks have been marred by smallpox, he comes upon her trying to cover up her scarred face with makeup, and she tells him that she does not want to ever see him again. He makes up elaborate schemes in order to see her, once hiding in her garden at night and crying like a little girl, hoping that it will affect her subconsciously and make her more compassionate. When that does not work, he asks to take her son Jaime to Lima and train the boy as he trained her. The bridge collapses as they cross it en route to Lima, and Uncle Pio and the boy die.


The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

Plot Overview

 Antonio, a Venetian merchant, complains to his friends of a melancholy that he cannot explain. His friend Bassanio is desperately in need of money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress who lives in the city of Belmont. Bassanio asks Antonio for a loan in order to travel in style to Portia’s estate. Antonio agrees, but is unable to make the loan himself because his own money is all invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. Antonio suggests that Bassanio secure the loan from one of the city’s moneylenders and name Antonio as the loan’s guarantor. In Belmont, Portia expresses sadness over the terms of her father’s will, which stipulates that she must marry the man who correctly chooses one of three caskets. None of Portia’s current suitors are to her liking, and she and her lady-in-waiting, Nerissa, fondly remember a visit paid some time before by Bassanio.


In Venice, Antonio and Bassanio approach Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, for a loan. Shylock nurses a long-standing grudge against Antonio, who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews for their usury, the practice of loaning money at exorbitant rates of interest, and who undermines their business by offering interest-free loans. Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Bassanio three thousand ducats with no interest. Shylock adds, however, that should the loan go unpaid, Shylock will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s own flesh. Despite Bassanio’s warnings, Antonio agrees. In Shylock’s own household, his servant Lancelot decides to leave Shylock’s service to work for Bassanio, and Shylock’s daughter Jessica schemes to elope with Antonio’s friend Lorenzo. That night, the streets of Venice fill up with revelers, and Jessica escapes with Lorenzo by dressing as his page. After a night of celebration, Bassanio and his friend Graziano leave for Belmont, where Bassanio intends to win Portia’s hand.


In Belmont, Portia welcomes the prince of Morocco, who has come in an attempt to choose the right casket to marry her. The prince studies the inscriptions on the three caskets and chooses the gold one, which proves to be an incorrect choice. In Venice, Shylock is furious to find that his daughter has run away, but rejoices in the fact that Antonio’s ships are rumored to have been wrecked and that he will soon be able to claim his debt. In Belmont, the prince of Aragon also visits Portia. He, too, studies the caskets carefully, but he picks the silver one, which is also incorrect. Bassanio arrives at Portia’s estate, and they declare their love for one another. Despite Portia’s request that he wait before choosing, Bassanio immediately picks the correct casket, which is made of lead. He and Portia rejoice, and Graziano confesses that he has fallen in love with Nerissa. The couples decide on a double wedding. Portia gives Bassanio a ring as a token of love, and makes him swear that under no circumstances will he part with it. They are joined, unexpectedly, by Lorenzo and Jessica. The celebration, however, is cut short by the news that Antonio has indeed lost his ships, and that he has forfeited his bond to Shylock. Bassanio and Graziano immediately travel to Venice to try and save Antonio’s life. After they leave, Portia tells Nerissa that they will go to Venice disguised as men.


Shylock ignores the many pleas to spare Antonio’s life, and a trial is called to decide the matter. The duke of Venice, who presides over the trial, announces that he has sent for a legal expert, who turns out to be Portia disguised as a young man of law. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy, but he remains inflexible and insists the pound of flesh is rightfully his. Bassanio offers Shylock twice the money due him, but Shylock insists on collecting the bond as it is written. Portia examines the contract and, finding it legally binding, declares that Shylock is entitled to the merchant’s flesh. Shylock ecstatically praises her wisdom, but as he is on the verge of collecting his due, Portia reminds him that he must do so without causing Antonio to bleed, as the contract does not entitle him to any blood. Trapped by this logic, Shylock hastily agrees to take Bassanio’s money instead, but Portia insists that Shylock take his bond as written, or nothing at all. Portia informs Shylock that he is guilty of conspiring against the life of a Venetian citizen, which means he must turn over half of his property to the state and the other half to Antonio. The duke spares Shylock’s life and takes a fine instead of Shylock’s property. Antonio also forgoes his half of Shylock’s wealth on two conditions: first, Shylock must convert to Christianity, and second, he must will the entirety of his estate to Lorenzo and Jessica upon his death. Shylock agrees and takes his leave.


Bassanio, who does not see through Portia’s disguise, showers the young law clerk with thanks, and is eventually pressured into giving Portia the ring with which he promised never to part. Graziano gives Nerissa, who is disguised as Portia’s clerk, his ring. The two women return to Belmont, where they find Lorenzo and Jessica declaring their love to each other under the moonlight. When Bassanio and Graziano arrive the next day, their wives accuse them of faithlessly giving their rings to other women. Before the deception goes too far, however, Portia reveals that she was, in fact, the law clerk, and both she and Nerissa reconcile with their husbands. Lorenzo and Jessica are pleased to learn of their inheritance from Shylock, and the joyful news arrives that Antonio’s ships have in fact made it back safely. The group celebrates its good fortune.


Themes, Motifs & Symbols




Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Self-Interest Versus Love


On the surface, the main difference between the Christian characters and Shylock appears to be that the Christian characters value human relationships over business ones, whereas Shylock is only interested in money. The Christian characters certainly view the matter this way. Merchants like Antonio lend money free of interest and put themselves at risk for those they love, whereas Shylock agonizes over the loss of his money and is reported to run through the streets crying, “O, my ducats! O, my daughter!” (II.viii.15). With these words, he apparently values his money at least as much as his daughter, suggesting that his greed outweighs his love. However, upon closer inspection, this supposed difference between Christian and Jew breaks down. When we see Shylock in Act III, scene i, he seems more hurt by the fact that his daughter sold a ring that was given to him by his dead wife before they were married than he is by the loss of the ring’s monetary value. Some human relationships do indeed matter to Shylock more than money. Moreover, his insistence that he have a pound of flesh rather than any amount of money shows that his resentment is much stronger than his greed.


Just as Shylock’s character seems hard to pin down, the Christian characters also present an inconsistent picture. Though Portia and Bassanio come to love one another, Bassanio seeks her hand in the first place because he is monstrously in debt and needs her money. Bassanio even asks Antonio to look at the money he lends Bassanio as an investment, though Antonio insists that he lends him the money solely out of love. In other words, Bassanio is anxious to view his relationship with Antonio as a matter of business rather than of love. Finally, Shylock eloquently argues that Jews are human beings just as Christians are, but Christians such as Antonio hate Jews simply because they are Jews. Thus, while the Christian characters may talk more about mercy, love, and charity, they are not always consistent in how they display these qualities.


The Divine Quality of Mercy


The conflict between Shylock and the Christian characters comes to a head over the issue of mercy. The other characters acknowledge that the law is on Shylock’s side, but they all expect him to show mercy, which he refuses to do. When, during the trial, Shylock asks Portia what could possibly compel him to be merciful, Portia’s long reply, beginning with the words, “The quality of mercy is not strained,” clarifies what is at stake in the argument (IV.i.179). Human beings should be merciful because God is merciful: mercy is an attribute of God himself and therefore greater than power, majesty, or law. Portia’s understanding of mercy is based on the way Christians in Shakespeare’s time understood the difference between the Old and New Testaments. According to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament, the Old Testament depicts God as requiring strict adherence to rules and exacting harsh punishments for those who stray. The New Testament, in contrast, emphasizes adherence to the spirit rather than the letter of the law, portraying a God who forgives rather than punishes and offers salvation to those followers who forgive others. Thus, when Portia warns Shylock against pursuing the law without regard for mercy, she is promoting what Elizabethan Christians would have seen as a pro-Christian, anti-Jewish agenda.


The strictures of Renaissance drama demanded that Shylock be a villain, and, as such, patently unable to show even a drop of compassion for his enemy. A sixteenth-century audience would not expect Shylock to exercise mercy—therefore, it is up to the Christians to do so. Once she has turned Shylock’s greatest weapon—the law—against him, Portia has the opportunity to give freely of the mercy for which she so beautifully advocates. Instead, she backs Shylock into a corner, where she strips him of his bond, his estate, and his dignity, forcing him to kneel and beg for mercy. Given that Antonio decides not to seize Shylock’s goods as punishment for conspiring against him, we might consider Antonio to be merciful. But we may also question whether it is merciful to return to Shylock half of his goods, only to take away his religion and his profession. By forcing Shylock to convert, Antonio disables him from practicing usury, which, according to Shylock’s reports, was Antonio’s primary reason for berating and spitting on him in public. Antonio’s compassion, then, seems to stem as much from self-interest as from concern for his fellow man. Mercy, as delivered in The Merchant of Venice, never manages to be as sweet, selfless, or full of grace as Portia presents it.


Hatred as a Cyclical Phenomenon


Throughout the play, Shylock claims that he is simply applying the lessons taught to him by his Christian neighbors; this claim becomes an integral part of both his character and his argument in court. In Shylock’s very first appearance, as he conspires to harm Antonio, his entire plan seems to be born of the insults and injuries Antonio has inflicted upon him in the past. As the play continues, and Shylock unveils more of his reasoning, the same idea rears its head over and over—he is simply applying what years of abuse have taught him. Responding to Salerio’s query of what good the pound of flesh will do him, Shylock responds, “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction” (III.i.6061). Not all of Shylock’s actions can be blamed on poor teachings, and one could argue that Antonio understands his own culpability in his near execution. With the trial’s conclusion, Antonio demands that Shylock convert to Christianity, but inflicts no other punishment, despite the threats of fellow Christians like Graziano. Antonio does not, as he has in the past, kick or spit on Shylock. Antonio, as well as the duke, effectively ends the conflict by starving it of the injustices it needs to continue.




Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Law


The Merchant of Venice depends heavily upon laws and rules—the laws of the state of Venice and the rules stipulated in contracts and wills. Laws and rules can be manipulated for cruel or wanton purposes, but they are also capable of producing good when executed by the right people. Portia’s virtual imprisonment by the game of caskets seems, at first, like a questionable rule at best, but her likening of the game to a lottery system is belied by the fact that, in the end, it works perfectly. The game keeps a host of suitors of bay, and of the three who try to choose the correct casket to win Portia’s hand, only the man of Portia’s desires succeeds. By the time Bassanio picks the correct chest, the choice seems like a more efficient indicator of human nature than any person could ever provide. A similar phenomenon occurs with Venetian law. Until Portia’s arrival, Shylock is the law’s strictest adherent, and it seems as if the city’s adherence to contracts will result in tragedy. However, when Portia arrives and manipulates the law most skillfully of all, the outcome is the happiest ending of all, at least to an Elizabethan audience: Antonio is rescued and Shylock forced to abandon his religion. The fact that the trial is such a close call does, however, raise the fearful specter of how the law can be misused. Without the proper guidance, the law can be wielded to do horrible things.




Twice in the play, daring escapes are executed with the help of cross-dressing. Jessica escapes the tedium of Shylock’s house by dressing as a page, while Portia and Nerissa rescue Antonio by posing as officers of the Venetian court. This device was not only familiar to Renaissance drama, but essential to its performance: women were banned from the stage and their parts were performed by -prepubescent boys. Shakespeare was a great fan of the potentials of cross-dressing and used the device often, especially in his comedies. But Portia reveals that the donning of men’s clothes is more than mere comedy. She says that she has studied a “thousand raw tricks of these bragging Jacks,” implying that male authority is a kind of performance that can be imitated successfully (III.iv.77). She feels confident that she can outwit any male competitor, declaring, “I’ll prove the prettier fellow of the two, / And wear my dagger with the braver grace” (III.iv.6465). In short, by assuming the clothes of the opposite sex, Portia enables herself to assume the power and position denied to her as a woman.


Filial Piety


Like Shakespeare’s other comedies, The Merchant of Venice seems to endorse the behavior of characters who treat filial piety lightly, even though the heroine, Portia, sets the opposite example by obeying her father’s will. Lancelot greets his blind, long lost father by giving the old man confusing directions and telling the old man that his beloved son Lancelot is dead. This moment of impertinence can be excused as essential to the comedy of the play, but it sets the stage for Jessica’s far more complex hatred of her father. Jessica can list no specific complaints when she explains her desire to leave Shylock’s house, and in the one scene in which she appears with Shylock, he fusses over her in a way that some might see as tender. Jessica’s desire to leave is made clearer when the other characters note how separate she has become from her father, but her behavior after departing seems questionable at best. Most notably, she trades her father’s ring, given to him by her dead mother, for a monkey. The frivolity of this exchange, in which an heirloom is tossed away for the silliest of objects, makes for quite a disturbing image of the esteem in which The Merchant of Venice’s children hold their parents, and puts us, at least temporarily, in Shylock’s corner.




Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Three Caskets


The contest for Portia’s hand, in which suitors from various countries choose among a gold, a silver, and a lead casket, resembles the cultural and legal system of Venice in some respects. Like the Venice of the play, the casket contest presents the same opportunities and the same rules to men of various nations, ethnicities, and religions. Also like Venice, the hidden bias of the casket test is fundamentally Christian. To win Portia, Bassanio must ignore the gold casket, which bears the inscription, “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” (II.vii.5), and the silver casket, which says, “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves” (II.vii.7). The correct casket is lead and warns that the person who chooses it must give and risk everything he has. The contest combines a number of Christian teachings, such as the idea that desire is an unreliable guide and should be resisted, and the idea that human beings do not deserve God’s grace but receive it in spite of themselves. Christianity teaches that appearances are often deceiving, and that people should not trust the evidence provided by the senses—hence the humble appearance of the lead casket. Faith and charity are the central values of Christianity, and these values are evoked by the lead casket’s injunction to give all and risk all, as one does in making a leap of faith. Portia’s father has presented marriage as one in which the proper suitor risks and gives everything for the spouse, in the hope of a divine recompense he can never truly deserve. The contest certainly suits Bassanio, who knows he does not deserve his good fortune but is willing to risk everything on a gamble.


The Pound of Flesh


The pound of flesh that Shylock seeks lends itself to multiple interpretations: it emerges most as a metaphor for two of the play’s closest relationships, but also calls attention to Shylock’s inflexible adherence to the law. The fact that Bassanio’s debt is to be paid with Antonio’s flesh is significant, showing how their friendship is so binding it has made them almost one. Shylock’s determination is strengthened by Jessica’s departure, as if he were seeking recompense for the loss of his own flesh and blood by collecting it from his enemy. Lastly, the pound of flesh is a constant reminder of the rigidity of Shylock’s world, where numerical calculations are used to evaluate even the most serious of situations. Shylock never explicitly demands that Antonio die, but asks instead, in his numerical mind, for a pound in exchange for his three thousand ducats. Where the other characters measure their emotions with long metaphors and words, Shylock measures everything in far more prosaic and numerical quantities.


Leah’s Ring


The ring given to Shylock in his bachelor days by a woman named Leah, who is most likely Shylock’s wife and Jessica’s mother, gets only a brief mention in the play, but is still an object of great importance. When told that Jessica has stolen it and traded it for a monkey, Shylock very poignantly laments its loss: “I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys” (III.i.101102). The lost ring allows us to see Shylock in an uncharacteristically vulnerable position and to view him as a human being capable of feeling something more than anger. Although Shylock and Tubal discuss the ring for no more than five lines, the ring stands as an important symbol of Shylock’s humanity, his ability to love, and his ability to grieve.



“The Black Cat” (1843) – Edgar Allen Poe


On the eve of his death, an unnamed narrator opens the story by proclaiming that he is sane, despite the wild narrative he is about to convey. This narrative begins years before, when the narrator’s honorable character is well known and celebrated. He confesses a great love for cats and dogs, both of which, he says, respect the fidelity of friendship, unlike fellow men. The narrator marries at a young age and introduces his wife to the domestic joys of owning pets. Among birds, goldfish, a dog, rabbits, and a monkey, the narrator singles out a large and beautiful black cat, named Pluto, as his favorite.

Though he loves Pluto, the narrator begins to suffer from violent mood swings, predominantly due to the influence of alcohol. He takes to mistreating not only the other animals but also his wife. During this uncontrollable rage, he spares only Pluto. After returning home quite drunk one night, the narrator lashes out at Pluto. Believing the cat has avoided him, he vengefully grasps the cat, only to be bitten on the hand. In demonic retaliation, the narrator pulls a penknife from his pocket and cuts out one of the cat’s eyes. Though the narrator wakes the next morning with a partial feeling of remorse, he is unable to reverse the newly ominous course of his black soul. Ignored for certain now by the wounded cat, the narrator soon seeks further retaliation. He is overwhelmed by a spirit of PERVERSENESS, and sets out to commit wrong for the sake of wrong. He hangs Pluto from the limb of a tree one morning.


On the night of Pluto’s hanging, the narrator’s family’s house burns down, but he dismisses the possibility of a connection between the two events. The day after the fire, which destroys all the narrator’s possessions, he witnesses a group of neighbors collected around a wall that remains standing. Investigating their shouts of amazement, the narrator discovers the impression of a gigantic cat—with a rope around its neck—on the surface of the wall. The narrator attempts to explain rationally the existence of the impression, but he finds himself haunted by this phantasm over the course of many months. One night, while out drunk, the narrator discovers a black object poised upon a large barrel of alcohol. A new black cat has appeared, resembling Pluto but with a splash of white on his fur.


As with Pluto, the narrator experiences a great fondness for the mysterious cat, which no one has seen before. The cat becomes part of the household, much adored by his wife as well. However, following the earlier pattern, the narrator soon cannot resist feelings of hatred for the cat. These murderous sentiments intensify when the narrator discovers that the cat’s splash of white fur has mysteriously taken on the shape of the gallows, the structure on which a hanging takes place. The white fur reveals the mode of execution that claimed Pluto, and the narrator pledges revenge.


One day, descending into the cellar of the building with his wife, the narrator almost trips over the cat. Enraged, the narrator grabs an axe to attack the cat, but his wife defends the animal. Further angered by this interference, the narrator turns his rage at his wife and buries the axe in her head. Faced with the evidence of his crime, the narrator considers many options for the body’s disposal, including dismemberment and burial. The narrator eventually decides to take advantage of the damp walls in the basement and entomb the body behind their plaster. Without any difficulty, the narrator creates a tomb in the plaster wall, thereby hiding the body and all traces of his murder. When he finally turns to the cat, it is missing, and he concludes that it has been frightened away by his anger.


On the fourth day after the murder, the police arrive unexpectedly at the narrator’s apartment. Cool and collected, the narrator leads them through the premises, even into the basement. Though facing the scene of the crime, the police do not demonstrate any curiosity and prepare to leave the residence. The narrator, however, keeps trying to allay their suspicion. Commenting upon the solid craftsmanship of the house, he taps on the wall—behind which is his wife’s body—with a cane. In response to the tapping, a long, loud cry emanates from behind the wall. The police storm the wall and dismantle it, discovering the hidden corpse. Upon its head sits the missing cat.



Much like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat” follows the narrator’s descent into madness after he proclaims his sanity in the tale’s opening paragraph. Even the narrator acknowledges the “wild” nature of the tale, attempting thereby to separate his mental condition from the events of the plot. The nature of the narrator’s madness differs from that of the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart.” “The Black Cat” does not concern itself only with the self-contained nature of the narrator’s mind. Rather, the narrator confesses an alcoholism that interferes with his grasp on reality and produces mood swings. Alcohol is, like the cat, an external agent that intrudes on the dynamics of the plot. The introduction of alcohol as a plot device is also significant because Edgar Allan Poe was an reputedly uncontrollable drunk throughout his lifetime. For many years, his biographers asserted that he died of alcohol poisoning in a gutter in Baltimore. More recent biographies insist that the exact cause of Poe’s death cannot be determined. Regardless, it is certain that Poe suffered from the deleterious effects of alcohol consumption throughout his life.


The influential literary critic Tzvetan Todorov introduced a concept of the “fantastic” in the early 1970s to discuss literature of horror, and the idea can be applied usefully to “The Black Cat.” The fantastic, he asserts, explores the indefinite boundary between the real and the supernatural. The fantastic is a literary category that contains elements of both the rational and the irrational. One of the fantastic elements in “The Black Cat” is the existence of the second cat—with the changing shape of its white fur and its appearance on the corpse behind the wall. These plot twists challenge reality, but they do not completely substitute a supernatural explanation for a logical one. It is possible that the plot twists derive only from the insanity of the narrator. As a result, the plot twists, like the fantastic, hover between the real and the supernatural. The resolution of the story is both rationally possible and tremendously unlikely; the cat could inhabit the basement walls, but it is difficult to believe that it would remain silently in the wall for a long time or go unnoticed by the overly meticulous narrator.


The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allen Poe

An unnamed narrator opens the story by addressing the reader and claiming that he is nervous but not mad. He says that he is going to tell a story in which he will defend his sanity yet confess to having killed an old man. His motivation was neither passion nor desire for money, but rather a fear of the man’s pale blue eye. Again, he insists that he is not crazy because his cool and measured actions, though criminal, are not those of a madman. Every night, he went to the old man’s apartment and secretly observed the man sleeping. In the morning, he would behave as if everything were normal. After a week of this activity, the narrator decides, somewhat randomly, that the time is right actually to kill the old man.

When the narrator arrives late on the eighth night, though, the old man wakes up and cries out. The narrator remains still, stalking the old man as he sits awake and frightened. The narrator understands how frightened the old man is, having also experienced the lonely terrors of the night. Soon, the narrator hears a dull pounding that he interprets as the old man’s terrified heartbeat. Worried that a neighbor might hear the loud thumping, he attacks and kills the old man. He then dismembers the body and hides the pieces below the floorboards in the bedroom. He is careful not to leave even a drop of blood on the floor. As he finishes his job, a clock strikes the hour of four. At the same time, the narrator hears a knock at the street door. The police have arrived, having been called by a neighbor who heard the old man shriek. The narrator is careful to be chatty and to appear normal. He leads the officers all over the house without acting suspiciously. At the height of his bravado, he even brings them into the old man’s bedroom to sit down and talk at the scene of the crime. The policemen do not suspect a thing. The narrator is comfortable until he starts to hear a low thumping sound. He recognizes the low sound as the heart of the old man, pounding away beneath the floorboards. He panics, believing that the policemen must also hear the sound and know his guilt. Driven mad by the idea that they are mocking his agony with their pleasant chatter, he confesses to the crime and shrieks at the men to rip up the floorboards.


Poe uses his words economically in the “Tell-Tale Heart”—it is one of his shortest stories—to provide a study of paranoia and mental deterioration. Poe strips the story of excess detail as a way to heighten the murderer’s obsession with specific and unadorned entities: the old man’s eye, the heartbeat, and his own claim to sanity. Poe’s economic style and pointed language thus contribute to the narrative content, and perhaps this association of form and content truly exemplifies paranoia. Even Poe himself, like the beating heart, is complicit in the plot to catch the narrator in his evil game.
As a study in paranoia, this story illuminates the psychological contradictions that contribute to a murderous profile. For example, the narrator admits, in the first sentence, to being dreadfully nervous, yet he is unable to comprehend why he should be thought mad. He articulates his self-defense against madness in terms of heightened sensory capacity. Unlike the similarly nervous and hypersensitive Roderick Usher in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” who admits that he feels mentally unwell, the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” views his hypersensitivity as proof of his sanity, not a symptom of madness. This special knowledge enables the narrator to tell this tale in a precise and complete manner, and he uses the stylistic tools of narration for the purposes of his own sanity plea. However, what makes this narrator mad—and most unlike Poe—is that he fails to comprehend the coupling of narrative form and content. He masters precise form, but he unwittingly lays out a tale of murder that betrays the madness he wants to deny.
Another contradiction central to the story involves the tension between the narrator’s capacities for love and hate. Poe explores here a psychological mystery—that people sometimes harm those whom they love or need in their lives. Poe examines this paradox half a century before Sigmund Freud made it a leading concept in his theories of the mind. Poe’s narrator loves the old man. He is not greedy for the old man’s wealth, nor vengeful because of any slight. The narrator thus eliminates motives that might normally inspire such a violent murder. As he proclaims his own sanity, the narrator fixates on the old man’s vulture-eye. He reduces the old man to the pale blue of his eye in obsessive fashion. He wants to separate the man from his “Evil Eye” so he can spare the man the burden of guilt that he attributes to the eye itself. The narrator fails to see that the eye is the “I” of the old man, an inherent part of his identity that cannot be isolated as the narrator perversely imagines.
The murder of the old man illustrates the extent to which the narrator separates the old man’s identity from his physical eye. The narrator sees the eye as completely separate from the man, and as a result, he is capable of murdering him while maintaining that he loves him. The narrator’s desire to eradicate the man’s eye motivates his murder, but the narrator does not acknowledge that this act will end the man’s life. By dismembering his victim, the narrator further deprives the old man of his humanity. The narrator confirms his conception of the old man’s eye as separate from the man by ending the man altogether and turning him into so many parts. That strategy turns against him when his mind imagines other parts of the old man’s body working against him.
The narrator’s newly heightened sensitivity to sound ultimately overcomes him, as he proves unwilling or unable to distinguish between real and imagined sounds. Because of his warped sense of reality, he obsesses over the low beats of the man’s heart yet shows little concern about the man’s shrieks, which are loud enough both to attract a neighbor’s attention and to draw the police to the scene of the crime. The police do not perform a traditional, judgmental role in this story. Ironically, they aren’t terrifying agents of authority or brutality. Poe’s interest is less in external forms of power than in the power that pathologies of the mind can hold over an individual. The narrator’s paranoia and guilt make it inevitable that he will give himself away. The police arrive on the scene to give him the opportunity to betray himself. The more the narrator proclaims his own cool manner, the more he cannot escape the beating of his own heart, which he mistakes for the beating of the old man’s heart. As he confesses to the crime in the final sentence, he addresses the policemen as “[v]illains,” indicating his inability to distinguish between their real identity and his own villainy.


Being There – Film based on Jerzy Kosinski’s novel

Being There is a 1979 film directed by Hal Ashby, adapted from the 1971 novel written by Jerzy Kosiński. The film stars Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard A. Dysart and Richard Basehart. Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. This was the last Peter Sellers film to be released while he was alive.

The screenplay was coauthored by Kosinski and the award winning screenwriter Robert C. Jones, winning the 1981 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (Film) Best Screenplay Award and the 1980 Writers Guild of America Award (Screen) for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the 1980 Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.


Chance (Sellers) is a middle-aged gardener who lives in the townhouse of a wealthy man in Washington, D.C.. Chance has lived in the house his whole life, tending the garden, with virtually no contact with the outside world. His cultural and social education is derived entirely from what he watches on the television sets provided by the "Old Man", who raised him. The only other person in his life is Louise, the maid who cooks his meals and looks upon him as nothing more than a child who has failed to grow up. When his benefactor dies, Chance is forced to leave his sheltered existence and discover the outside world for the first time.

He wanders aimlessly through a wintry and busy Washington in old-fashioned clothes, a homburg hat, suitcase and umbrella. In the evening Chance comes across a TV shop and sees himself in one of the TVs due to a camera in the shop window. While watching himself in it he is struck by a car owned by Ben Rand (Douglas), a wealthy businessman.

Rand’s wife Eve (MacLaine) invites Chance to their home (the Biltmore Estate) to recover from his injured leg. After being offered alcohol for the first time in his life, Chance coughs over it while being asked his name which, instead of "Chance the Gardener" (which is what he said), is interpreted to be "Chauncey Gardiner". During dinner at the Rand’s home, Chance describes attorneys coming to his former house and shutting it down. Although Chance is really describing being kicked out of the home where he tended to the garden, Ben Rand perceives it as attorneys shutting down Chance’s business due to financial problems. Sympathizing with him, Ben Rand takes Chance under his wing. His simplistic, very serious and indeliberate utterances, which mostly concern the garden of which he was once steward, are interpreted as allegorical statements of deep wisdom and knowledge regarding business matters and the current state of politics in America.

Rand is also the confidant and adviser of the US President (Warden), whom he introduces to "Chauncey". Chance’s remarks about how the garden changes with the seasons are interpreted by the President as economic and political advice, relating to his concerns about the mid-term unpopularity that many administrations face while in office. Chance, as Chauncey Gardiner, quickly rises to national public prominence. He becomes a media celebrity with appearances on TV talk shows, and is soon on the A-list of the most wanted in Washington society. Public opinion polls start to reflect just how much his "simple brand of wisdom" resonates with the jaded American public.

Rand, dying of aplastic anemia, encourages his wife to get close to Chance, knowing Eve is a fragile woman. Only Rand’s doctor (Dysart) sees Chance for what he truly is: an actual gardener totally oblivious and unaware to the ways of the world. However, the fact that Chance has given Rand an apparent acceptance of his illness and peace of mind with his imminent death makes the doctor hesitant to say anything.

Rand dies, leaving Chance a legacy in his will. At his funeral, the President gives a long-winded read-out of Rand’s quotations, which hardly impresses the pallbearers, members of the board of Rand’s companies. They hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President for the next term of office. As Rand’s coffin is about to be added to his family’s Masonic pyramid-like mausoleum they finally agree on "Chauncey Gardiner".

Oblivious to all this, Chance wanders through Rand’s wintry estate. Ever the gardener, he straightens out a bush and then walks off… across the surface of a small lake. He pauses, dips his umbrella into the water under his feet as if testing its depth, turns, smiles, then continues to walk on the water as Rand’s quote "Life is a state of mind" is read in the background.


 Cast, characters and their perceptions

  • Sellers as Chauncey "Chance" Gardiner: a simple gardener who has spent his entire life isolated from the world. Chance’s calm and seemingly highly intelligent demeanor is essentially a blank canvas on which each of the film’s characters paint their own picture, sometimes making Chance out to be much more than he really is.
  • Douglas as Ben Rand: a dying business leader and political king-maker. Rand gains a perception of Chauncey as a failed though totally decent businessman down on his luck. He also sees Chauncey’s reference to seasons in gardening as an insightful comment about the national economy. Near the end of the film and due to Chance’s strong presence in his life, Ben finally makes some much needed peace with himself and his terminal illness knowing that Chance will be around to love and care for his wife Eve after his inevitable death.
  • MacLaine as Eve Rand: Ben’s wife. She is first puzzled by Chauncey’s strangeness and then thinks of him as having insight and a sense of humor. Later she sinks her own initial doubts and adopts the consensus view that he is a great man. She then pursues her own need for friendship and sexual contact, especially when her dying husband signals his consent to her forming a strong relationship with Chauncey. This ultimately leads her to act on her sexual desires with the oblivious Chance. In one scene, Chance kisses her, imitating a scene he has just seen on TV, but then tells her that he prefers to watch. Eve subsequently proceeds to masturbate while Chance continues to channel-surf (which is what he meant).
  • Warden as The President: He first sees Chauncey’s advice as inspiring, to the point that he quotes and names him on national TV. But he soon comes to regret bringing this mystery man into the spotlight since it might jeopardize his chances of running for a second term. His anxiety over Gardiner is so intense that it renders him sexually impotent.
  • The FBI, astounded by their inability to discover anything about "Chauncey Gardiner", come to the conclusion that someone has eliminated the entire record — a feat of such ability that "only an ex-FBI man could have done it!" The CIA prefer to think that the cover-up was perpetrated by one of their own agents, highlighting the rivalry between the two organizations.
  • David Clennon as Thomas Franklin: the attorney, who distrusts Chance’s motives for acting the way he does when they first meet in the house owned by Chance’s late benefactor and orders him out. Later, Franklin, keen to start a career in politics, seems to view his contact with Chauncey Gardiner as potentially ruinous to his ambitions.
  • Ruth Attaway as Louise: the African-American maid, sees Chance, whom she has known since he was a boy, on national TV, and declares out loud that he only has "rice pudding between the ears." It confirms her opinion that America is certainly a "white man’s world." Her actual monologue was known to have brought the biggest laughter in theatres during the movie’s theatrical lifespan:[citation needed] "It’s for sure a white man’s world in America. I raised that boy since he was the size of a ‘pissant’ and I’ll tell you he never learned to read nor write. No sir. Has no brains at all. Stuffed with rice pudding between the ears. Short-changed by the Lord and dumb as a jackass. Yes sir, all you got to be is white in America to get whatever you want. Gobbledegoop."
  • The general public, portrayed by the audience in the TV studio, opinion polls and Thomas Franklin’s girlfriend, thinks that Chauncey is simply "brilliant."
  • Financial and political elite seen at Rand’s funeral. They believe that Gardiner may be their man for the next presidential election instead of a second term for the current President.
  • Richard A. Dysart as Dr. Robert Allenby: the good-hearted doctor initially worries that Chauncey will sue Rand for damages following the accident. He eventually learns the truth and confronts Chance with the information, who confirms it, having never actually claimed to be anything else — the whole affair has been based on what people assume Chauncey is rather than what Chance led them to believe he was. However, Allenby ultimately decides to keep this knowledge to himself since Chance has given his patient a new outlook on life and death, and acceptance of his fate.


 Memorable scenes

Memorable scenes in the film version include Chance leaving the house he has lived in all his life to enter into the poor black Washington, D.C. neighborhood he has never explored. The scene is musically set to a funked-up version of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (performed by Deodato), the music popularized in 2001: A Space Odyssey and an accompaniment to many TV programs regarding space exploration.

Chance is later confronted by a street gang. A street gang member pulls a knife on Chance and says, "Don’t give me no jive…I’ll cut up your white ass." Chance pulls out his TV remote control as though to change the vision before his eyes. A lifetime of watching TV has not prepared him for the realities of real life.

In Eve Rand’s limousine, Chance asks to watch TV, to which he pays more attention than the luxurious vehicle around him or the woman he has just met. Chance watches the Cheech and Chong short film Basketball Jones in Eve’s limo, and the song continues to play when he arrives at the Rand estate and is brought into their mansion. George Harrison plays guitar on the song "Basketball Jones".

A large portion of the film including the final scene take place at the massive Biltmore House, which "stands in" as the home of Mr. Rand. The Biltmore House and Estate is the largest private residence in the United States and is located in Asheville, North Carolina. The scenes involving the funeral for Rand were also filmed on the grounds of the estate.

MacLaine’s character writhing in long-suppressed sexual pleasure on a bear rug while Chance obliviously channel-surfs and tries to mimic a yoga program by standing on his head.

The second to last scene has generated discussion and controversy.[citation needed] Before Ben dies, he says, "Tell Eve that…", and he dies in the middle of the sentence. The doctor puts Ben’s hand to his chest. Chance then puts his hand on Ben’s forehead as if reviving him or sending his soul to rest. When he takes his hand off Ben’s forehead, he speaks with the doctor, and then, leaves the room. As Chance is leaving the room, the doctor, blurred, is watching him with his back facing the screen. Someone (the doctor or Rand) then says, "I understand." The doctor turning around to look at the dead Ben, then says, "I understand?" This scene can possibly support the hypothesis that Chance indeed possesses some unknown divine power.


 Lake scene

In the final scene, as the party elite discuss choosing Chance as their preferred candidate in the upcoming presidential election, Chance is seen wandering over the estate. He comes to the edge of a lake and then continues to walk on the surface of the water, and not into it. Film critic Roger Ebert mentions this in his 2001 book The Great Movies, saying that his students suggested Chance may be walking on a submersed pier. Ebert comments, "The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier–a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more."[1]

One clue that is often overlooked[citation needed], is the diegetic sound accompanying the simple image of Chance walking on the lake water. As Chance walks through the woods near the funeral, a series of Rand’s personal quotations are read aloud while the coffin is carried to its final resting place. Rand’s last quote coincides with the last image of the film: just as the words "Life is a state of mind" are recited, we see Chance walk on water.


 Rand’s quotes

  • "I have no use for those on welfare, no patience whatsoever, but if I am to be honest with myself, I must admit that they have no use for me either."
  • "I do not regret having political differences with men that I respect. I do regret however, that our philosophies kept us apart."
  • "I could never conceive why I could never convince my kitchen staff that I looked forward to a good bowl of chili now and then."
  • "I have heard the word "sir," more often than I have heard the word "friend," but I suppose there are other rewards for wealth."
  • "I have met with kings; during these conferences I have suppressed bizarre thoughts. Could I beat him in a foot race? Could I throw a ball further than he?"
  • "No matter what our facades, we are all children."
  • "To raise your rifle is to lower your sights."
  • "No matter what you are told there is no such thing as an even trade."
  • "I was born into a position of extreme wealth, but I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about extreme poverty."
  • "I have lived a lot, trembled a lot, was surrounded by little men who forgot that we entered naked and exit naked and that no accountant can audit life in our favor."
  • "When I was a boy, I was told that the Lord fashioned us from His own image, that’s when I decided to manufacture mirrors."
  • "Security. Tranquility. A Well Deserved Rest. All the aims I have pursued will soon be realized."
  • "Life is a state of mind."

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Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky (Part 1)

Analysis of Major Characters


Raskolnikov is the protagonist of the novel, and the story is told almost exclusively from his point of view. His name derives from the Russian word raskolnik, meaning “schismatic” or “divided,” which is appropriate since his most fundamental character trait is his alienation from human society. His pride and intellectualism lead him to disdain the rest of humanity as fit merely to perpetuate the species. In contrast, he believes that he is part of an elite “superman” echelon and can consequently transgress accepted moral standards for higher purposes such as utilitarian good. However, that guilt that torments him after he murders Alyona Ivanovna and Lizaveta and his recurring faintness at the mention of the murders serve as proof to him that he is not made of the same stuff as a true “superman” such as Napoleon. Though he grapples with the decision to confess for most of the novel and though he seems gradually to accept the reality of his mediocrity, he remains convinced that the murder of the pawnbroker was justified. His ultimate realization that he loves Sonya is the only force strong enough to transcend his ingrained contempt of humanity. Raskolnikov’s relationships with the other characters in the novel do much to illuminate his personality and understanding of himself. Although he cares about Razumikhin, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and Dunya, Raskolnikov is so caught up in his skeptical outlook that he is often unappreciative of their attempts to help him. He turns to Sonya as a fellow transgressor of social norms, but he fails to recognize that her sin is much different from his: while she truly sacrifices herself for the sake of others, he essentially commits his crime for his sake alone. Finally, his relationship with Svidrigailov is enigmatic. Though he despises the man for his depravity, he also seems to need something from him—perhaps validation of his own crime from a hardened malcontent.



Sonya is quiet, timid, and easily embarrassed, but she is also extremely devout and devoted to her family. Her sacrifice of prostituting herself for the sake of her family is made even more poignant by the fact that it would not be necessary were her father able to control his drinking habit. Initially scared of the half-delirious Raskolnikov, Sonya, in her infinite capacity for understanding, begins to care deeply about him. She is not horrified by his crimes, but rather, concerned for his soul and mental well-being, urges him to confess. Raskolnikov thinks of her, at first, as a fellow transgressor, someone who has stepped over the line between morality and immorality, just as he has. But there is a crucial difference between their transgressions that Raskolnikov is unwilling to acknowledge: she sins for the sake of others, whereas he sins for no one but himself. Sonya illustrates important social and political issues that were of concern to Dostoevsky, such as the treatment of women, the effects of poverty, the importance of religious faith, and the importance of devotion to family.



Dunya is Raskolnikov’s sister and shares many of his traits. She is intelligent, proud, beautiful, and strong-willed. But in most other ways, she is Raskolnikov’s exact opposite. Whereas he is self-centered, cruel, and prone to intellectualizing, she is self-sacrificing, kind, and exhibits endless compassion. The relationship between Dunya and Raskolnikov is always based on mutual love and respect, but it swings from one extreme of emotion to the other as Raskolnikov slowly approaches the moment of confession. In many ways, Dunya is more mature than her brother: while he grows angry and dizzy confronting Luzhin, she remains confident and in control, even when she becomes just as angry. She is the strongest female character in the novel, neither as crushed by poverty nor as timid as Sonya. If there are any heroes in Crime and Punishment, she, along with Razumikhin, is certainly one of them, which makes their marriage at the end of the novel particularly appropriate.



Svidrigailov is one of the most enigmatic characters in Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky leaves little doubt as to Svidrigailov’s status as a villain. But all of Svidrigailov’s crimes, except for his attempted rape of Dunya, are behind him. We witness Svidrigailov perform goods deeds, such as giving money to the family of his fiancée, to Katerina Ivanovna and her children, and to Dunya. Although he is a violent and sneaky individual, Svidrigailov possesses the ability to accept that he cannot force reality to conform to his deepest desires. In this regard, he functions as a foil to Raskolnikov, who can accept only partially the breakdown of his presumed “superman” identity. Further, whereas Raskolnikov believes unflinchingly in the utilitarian rationale for Alyona Ivanovna’s murder, Svidrigailov doesn’t try to contest the death of his romantic vision when Dunya rejects him. Although the painful realization that he will never have the love of someone as honest, kind, intelligent, and beautiful as she is compels him to commit suicide, he is one of the few characters in the novel to die with dignity.


Themes, Motifs & Symbols



Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.


Alienation from Society

Alienation is the primary theme of Crime and Punishment. At first, Raskolnikov’s pride separates him from society. He sees himself as superior to all other people and so cannot relate to anyone. Within his personal philosophy, he sees other people as tools and uses them for his own ends. After committing the murders, his isolation grows because of his intense guilt and the half-delirium into which his guilt throws him. Over and over again, Raskolnikov pushes away the people who are trying to help him, including Sonya, Dunya, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, Razumikhin, and even Porfiry Petrovich, and then suffers the consequences. In the end, he finds the total alienation that he has brought upon himself intolerable. Only in the Epilogue, when he finally realizes that he loves Sonya, does Raskolnikov break through the wall of pride and self-centeredness that has separated him from society.


The Psychology of Crime and Punishment

The manner in which the novel addresses crime and punishment is not exactly what one would expect. The crime is committed in Part I and the punishment comes hundreds of pages later, in the Epilogue. The real focus of the novel is not on those two endpoints but on what lies between them—an in-depth exploration of the psychology of a criminal. The inner world of Raskolnikov, with all of its doubts, deliria, second-guessing, fear, and despair, is the heart of the story. Dostoevsky concerns himself not with the actual repercussions of the murder but with the way the murder forces Raskolnikov to deal with tormenting guilt. Indeed, by focusing so little on Raskolnikov’s imprisonment, Dostoevsky seems to suggest that actual punishment is much less terrible than the stress and anxiety of trying to avoid punishment. Porfiry Petrovich emphasizes the psychological angle of the novel, as he shrewdly realizes that Raskolnikov is the killer and makes several speeches in which he details the workings of Raskolnikov’s mind after the killing. Because he understands that a guilt-ridden criminal must necessarily experience mental torture, he is certain that Raskolnikov will eventually confess or go mad. The expert mind games that he plays with Raskolnikov strengthen the sense that the novel’s outcome is inevitable because of the nature of the human psyche.


The Idea of the Superman

At the beginning of the novel, Raskolnikov sees himself as a “superman,” a person who is extraordinary and thus above the moral rules that govern the rest of humanity. His vaunted estimation of himself compels him to separate himself from society. His murder of the pawnbroker is, in part, a consequence of his belief that he is above the law and an attempt to establish the truth of his superiority. Raskolnikov’s inability to quell his subsequent feelings of guilt, however, proves to him that he is not a “superman.” Although he realizes his failure to live up to what he has envisioned for himself, he is nevertheless unwilling to accept the total deconstruction of this identity. He continues to resist the idea that he is as mediocre as the rest of humanity by maintaining to himself that the murder was justified. It is only in his final surrender to his love for Sonya, and his realization of the joys in such surrender, that he can finally escape his conception of himself as a superman and the terrible isolation such a belief brought upon him.



Nihilism was a philosophical position developed in Russia in the 1850s and 1860s, known for “negating more,” in the words of Lebezyatnikov. It rejected family and societal bonds and emotional and aesthetic concerns in favor of a strict materialism, or the idea that there is no “mind” or “soul” outside of the physical world. Linked to nihilism is utilitarianism, or the idea that moral decisions should be based on the rule of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. Raskolnikov originally justifies the murder of Alyona on utilitarian grounds, claiming that a “louse” has been removed from society. Whether or not the murder is actually a utilitarian act, Raskolnikov is certainly a nihilist; completely unsentimental for most of the novel, he cares nothing about the emotions of others. Similarly, he utterly disregards social conventions that run counter to the austere interactions that he desires with the world. However, at the end of the novel, as Raskolnikov discovers love, he throws off his nihilism. Through this action, the novel condemns nihilism as empty.



Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.



Poverty is ubiquitous in the St. Petersburg of Dostoevsky’s novel. Almost every character in the novel—except Luzhin, Svidrigailov, and the police officials—is desperately poor, including the Marmeladovs, the Raskolnikovs, Razumikhin, and various lesser characters. While poverty inherently forces families to bond together, Raskolnikov often attempts to distance himself from Pulcheria Alexandrovna and Dunya. He scolds his sister when he thinks that she is marrying to help him out financially; he also rejects Razumikhin’s offer of a job. Dostoevsky’s descriptions of poverty allow him to address important social issues and to create rich, problematic situations in which the only way to survive is through self-sacrifice. As a result, poverty enables characters such as Sonya and Dunya to demonstrate their strength and compassion.



Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.


The City

The city of St. Petersburg as represented in Dostoevsky’s novel is dirty and crowded. Drunks are sprawled on the street in broad daylight, consumptive women beat their children and beg for money, and everyone is crowded into tiny, noisy apartments. The clutter and chaos of St. Petersburg is a twofold symbol. It represents the state of society, with all of its inequalities, prejudices, and deficits. But it also represents Raskolnikov’s delirious, agitated state as he spirals through the novel toward the point of his confession and redemption. He can escape neither the city nor his warped mind. From the very beginning, the narrator describes the heat and “the odor” coming off the city, the crowds, and the disorder, and says they “all contributed to irritate the young man’s already excited nerves.” Indeed, it is only when Raskolnikov is forcefully removed from the city to a prison in a small town in Siberia that he is able to regain compassion and balance.


The Cross

The cross that Sonya gives to Raskolnikov before he goes to the police station to confess is an important symbol of redemption for him. Throughout Christendom, of course, the cross symbolizes Jesus’ self-sacrifice for the sins of humanity. Raskolnikov denies any feeling of sin or devoutness even after he receives the cross; the cross symbolizes not that he has achieved redemption or even understood what Sonya believes religion can offer him, but that he has begun on the path toward recognition of the sins that he has committed. That Sonya is the one who gives him the cross has special significance: she gives of herself to bring him back to humanity, and her love and concern for him, like that of Jesus, according to Christianity, will ultimately save and renew him.


Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky (Part 2)

Plot Overview


            Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a former student, lives in a tiny garret on the top floor of a run-down apartment building in St. Petersburg. He is sickly, dressed in rags, short on money, and talks to himself, but he is also handsome, proud, and intelligent. He is contemplating committing an awful crime, but the nature of the crime is not yet clear. He goes to the apartment of an old pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, to get money for a watch and to plan the crime. Afterward, he stops for a drink at a tavern, where he meets a man named Marmeladov, who, in a fit of drunkenness, has abandoned his job and proceeded on a five-day drinking binge, afraid to return home to his family. Marmeladov tells Raskolnikov about his sickly wife, Katerina Ivanovna, and his daughter, Sonya, who has been forced into prostitution to support the family. Raskolnikov walks with Marmeladov to Marmeladov’s apartment, where he meets Katerina and sees firsthand the squalid conditions in which they live.


The next day, Raskolnikov receives a letter from his mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, informing him that his sister, Dunya, is engaged to be married to a government official named Luzhin and that they are all moving to St. Petersburg. He goes to another tavern, where he overhears a student talking about how society would be better off if the old pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna were dead. Later, in the streets, Raskolnikov hears that the pawnbroker will be alone in her apartment the next evening. He sleeps fitfully and wakes up the next day, finds an ax, and fashions a fake item to pawn to distract the pawnbroker. That night, he goes to her apartment and kills her. While he is rummaging through her bedroom, looking for money, her sister, Lizaveta, walks in, and Raskolnikov kills her as well. He barely escapes from the apartment without being seen, then returns to his apartment and collapses on the sofa.


Waking up the next day, Raskolnikov frantically searches his clothing for traces of blood. He receives a summons from the police, but it seems to be unrelated to the murders. At the police station, he learns that his landlady is trying to collect money that he owes her. During a conversation about the murders, Raskolnikov faints, and the police begin to suspect him. Raskolnikov returns to his room, collects the goods that he stole from the pawnbroker, and buries them under a rock in an out-of-the-way courtyard. He visits his friend Razumikhin and refuses his offer of work. Returning to his apartment, Raskolnikov falls into a fitful, nightmare-ridden sleep. After four days of fever and delirium, he wakes up to find out that his housekeeper, Nastasya, and Razumikhin have been taking care of him. He learns that Zossimov, a doctor, and Zamyotov, a young police detective, have also been visiting him. They have all noticed that Raskolnikov becomes extremely uncomfortable whenever the murders of the pawnbroker and her sister are mentioned. Luzhin, Dunya’s fiancé, also makes a visit. After a confrontation with Luzhin, Raskolnikov goes to a café, where he almost confesses to Zamyotov that he is the murderer. Afterward, he impulsively goes to the apartment of the pawnbroker. On his way back home, he discovers that Marmeladov has been run over by a carriage. Raskolnikov helps to carry him back to his apartment, where Marmeladov dies. At the apartment, he meets Sonya and gives the family twenty rubles that he received from his mother. Returning with Razumikhin to his own apartment, Raskolnikov faints when he discovers that his sister and mother are there waiting for him.


Raskolnikov becomes annoyed with Pulcheria Alexandrovna and Dunya and orders them out of the room. He also commands Dunya to break her engagement with Luzhin. Razumikhin, meanwhile, falls in love with Dunya. The next morning, Razumikhin tries to explain Raskolnikov’s character to Dunya and Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and then the three return to Raskolnikov’s apartment. There, Zossimov greets them and tells them that Raskolnikov’s condition is much improved. Raskolnikov apologizes for his behavior the night before and confesses to giving all his money to the Marmeladovs. But he soon grows angry and irritable again and demands that Dunya not marry Luzhin. Dunya tells him that she is meeting with Luzhin that evening, and that although Luzhin has requested specifically that Raskolnikov not be there, she would like him to come nevertheless. Raskolnikov agrees. At that moment, Sonya enters the room, greatly embarrassed to be in the presence of Raskolnikov’s family. She invites Raskolnikov to her father’s funeral, and he accepts. On her way back to her apartment, Sonya is followed by a strange man, who we later learn is Svidrigailov—Dunya’s lecherous former employer who is obsessively attracted to her.


Under the pretense of trying to recover a watch he pawned, Raskolnikov visits the magistrate in charge of the murder investigation, Porfiry Petrovich, a relative of Razumikhin’s. Zamyotov is at the detective’s house when Raskolnikov arrives. Raskolnikov and Porfiry have a tense conversation about the murders. Raskolnikov starts to believe that Porfiry suspects him and is trying to lead him into a trap. Afterward, Raskolnikov and Razumikhin discuss the conversation, trying to figure out if Porfiry suspects him. When Raskolnikov returns to his apartment, he learns that a man had come there looking for him. When he catches up to the man in the street, the man calls him a murderer. That night Raskolnikov dreams about the pawnbroker’s murder. When he wakes up, there is a stranger in the room.


The stranger is Svidrigailov. He explains that he would like Dunya to break her engagement with Luzhin, whom he esteems unworthy of her. He offers to give Dunya the enormous sum of ten thousand rubles. He also tells Raskolnikov that his late wife, Marfa Petrovna, left Dunya three thousand rubles in her will. Raskolnikov rejects Svidrigailov’s offer of money and, after hearing him talk about seeing the ghost of Marfa, suspects that he is insane. After Svidrigailov leaves, Raskolnikov and Razumikhin walk to a restaurant to meet Dunya, Pulcheria Alexandrovna, and Luzhin. Razumikhin tells Raskolnikov that he is certain that the police suspect Raskolnikov. Luzhin is insulted to find that Raskolnikov, contrary to his wishes, is in attendance at the meal. They discuss Svidrigailov’s arrival in the city and the money that has been offered to Dunya. Luzhin and Raskolnikov get into an argument, during the course of which Luzhin offends everyone in the room, including his fiancée and prospective mother-in-law. Dunya breaks the engagement and forces him to leave. Everyone is overjoyed at his departure. Razumikhin starts to talk about plans to go into the publishing business as a family, but Raskolnikov ruins the mood by telling them that he does not want to see them anymore. When Raskolnikov leaves the room, Razumikhin chases him down the stairs. They stop, face-to-face, and Razumikhin realizes, without a word being spoken, that Raskolnikov is guilty of the murders. He rushes back to Dunya and Pulcheria Alexandrovna to reassure them that he will help them through whatever difficulties they encounter.

Raskolnikov goes to the apartment of Sonya Marmeladov. During their conversation, he learns that Sonya was a friend of one of his victims, Lizaveta. He forces Sonya to read to him the biblical story of Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus. Meanwhile, Svidrigailov eavesdrops from the apartment next door.


The following morning, Raskolnikov visits Porfiry Petrovich at the police department, supposedly in order to turn in a formal request for his pawned watch. As they converse, Raskolnikov starts to feel again that Porfiry is trying to lead him into a trap. Eventually, he breaks under the pressure and accuses Porfiry of playing psychological games with him. At the height of tension between them, Nikolai, a workman who is being held under suspicion for the murders, bursts into the room and confesses to the murders. On the way to Katerina Ivanovna’s memorial dinner for Marmeladov, Raskolnikov meets the mysterious man who called him a murderer and learns that the man actually knows very little about the case.

The scene shifts to the apartment of Luzhin and his roommate, Lebezyatnikov, where Luzhin is nursing his hatred for Raskolnikov, whom he blames for the breaking of his engagement to Dunya. Although Luzhin has been invited to Marmeladov’s memorial dinner, he refuses to go. He invites Sonya to his room and gives her a ten-ruble bill. Katerina’s memorial dinner goes poorly. The widow is extremely fussy and proud, but few guests have shown up, and, except for Raskolnikov, those that have are drunk and crude. Luzhin then enters the room and accuses Sonya of stealing a one-hundred-ruble bill. Sonya denies his claim, but the bill is discovered in one of her pockets. Just as everyone is about to label Sonya a thief, however, Lebezyatnikov enters and tells the room that he saw Luzhin slip the bill into Sonya’s pocket as she was leaving his room. Raskolnikov explains that Luzhin was probably trying to embarrass him by discrediting Sonya. Luzhin leaves, and a fight breaks out between Katerina and her landlady.

After the dinner, Raskolnikov goes to Sonya’s room and confesses the murders to her. They have a long conversation about his confused motives. Sonya tries to convince him to confess to the authorities. Lebezyatnikov then enters and informs them that Katerina Ivanovna seems to have gone mad—she is parading the children in the streets, begging for money. Sonya rushes out to find them while Raskolnikov goes back to his room and talks to Dunya. He soon returns to the street and sees Katerina dancing and singing wildly. She collapses after a confrontation with a policeman and, soon after being brought back to her room, dies. Svidrigailov appears and offers to pay for the funeral and the care of the children. He reveals to Raskolnikov that he knows Raskolnikov is the murderer.


Raskolnikov wanders around in a haze after his confession to Sonya and the death of Katerina. Razumikhin confronts him in his room, asking him whether he has gone mad and telling him of the pain that he has caused his mother and sister. After their conversation, Porfiry Petrovich appears and apologizes for his treatment of Raskolnikov in the police station. Nonetheless, he does not believe Nikolai’s confession. He accuses Raskolnikov of the murders but admits that he does not have enough evidence to arrest him. Finally, he urges him to confess, telling him that he will receive a lighter sentence if he does so. Raskolnikov goes looking for Svidrigailov, eventually finding him in a café. Svidrigailov tells him that though he is still attracted to Dunya, he has gotten engaged to a sixteen-year-old girl. Svidrigailov parts from Raskolnikov and manages to bring Dunya to his room, where he threatens to rape her after she refuses to marry him. She fires several shots at him with a revolver and misses, but when he sees how strongly she dislikes him, he allows her to leave. He takes her revolver and wanders aimlessly around St. Petersburg. He gives three thousand rubles to Dunya, fifteen thousand rubles to the family of his fiancée, and then books a room in a hotel. He sleeps fitfully and dreams of a flood and a seductive five-year-old girl. In the morning, he kills himself.

Raskolnikov, who is visiting his mother, tells her that he will always love her and then returns to his room, where he tells Dunya that he is planning to confess. After she leaves, he goes to visit Sonya, who gives him a cross to wear. On the way to the police station, he stops in a marketplace and kisses the ground. He almost pulls back from confessing when he reaches the police station and learns of Svidrigailov’s suicide. The sight of Sonya, however, convinces him to go through with it, and he confesses to one of the police officials, Ilya Petrovich.


A year and a half later, Raskolnikov is in prison in Siberia, where he has been for nine months. Sonya has moved to the town outside the prison, and she visits Raskolnikov regularly and tries to ease his burden. Because of his confession, his mental confusion surrounding the murders, and testimony about his past good deeds, he has received, instead of a death sentence, a reduced sentence of eight years of hard labor in Siberia. After Raskolnikov’s arrest, his mother became delirious and died. Razumikhin and Dunya were married. For a short while, Raskolnikov remains as proud and alienated from humanity as he was before his confession, but he eventually realizes that he truly loves Sonya and expresses remorse for his crime.




Fyodor Dostoevsky (also spelled Dostoyevsky) is renowned as one of the world’s greatest novelists and literary psychologists. His works grapple with deep political, social, and religious issues while delving into the often tortured psychology of characters whose lives are shaped by these issues. Born in Moscow in 1821, the son of a doctor, he was educated first at home and then at a boarding school. His father sent him to the St. Petersburg Academy of Military Engineering, from which he graduated in 1843. But, as he had long set his sights on literature, Dostoevsky immediately resigned his position as a sublieutenant in exchange for the much less stable life of a fiction writer. His first book, Poor Folk, was published to critical acclaim in 1846.


In 1847, Dostoevsky became active in socialist circles, largely because of his opposition to the institution of serfdom. On April 23, 1849, he was arrested for his participation in a group that illegally printed and distributed socialist propaganda. After spending eight months in prison, he was sentenced to death for membership in the group and led, with other members of the group, to be shot. But the execution turned out to be a mere show, meant to punish the prisoners psychologically. Dostoevsky then spent four years at a labor camp in Siberia, followed by four years of military service. Raskolnikov’s time in a Siberian prison, described in the Epilogue of Crime and Punishment, is based on Dostoevsky’s own experiences at a similar prison.


During his time in prison, Dostoevsky suffered the first of many epileptic seizures. He also underwent something of a political conversion, rejecting the radical socialist positions that had led to his arrest in favor of a conservative concern for traditional values. His dismissal of leftist political thought is evident in Crime and Punishment. For instance, Raskolnikov’s crime is motivated, in part, by his theories about society. Lebezyatnikov, whose name is derived from the Russian word for “fawning,” is obsessed with the so-called new philosophies that raged through St. Petersburg during the time that Dostoevsky was writing the novel. Luzhin, a mid-level government official, is continually afraid of being “exposed” by “nihilists.”


In 1857, Dostoevsky married Mariya Dmitriyevna Isayeva, who died of consumption seven years later. He spent much of the 1860s in Western Europe experiencing the culture that was slowly invading Russia and struggled with poverty, epilepsy, and an addiction to gambling. But with the 1866 publication of Crime and Punishment, a long, delirious trip through the psyche of a tormented murderer, his fortunes improved. The novel’s popular and critical success allowed him to keep ahead, just barely, of daunting debts and the burden of supporting a number of children left in his care after the deaths of his brother and sister. In 1867, he was married a second time, to Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina, who helped him cope with his epilepsy, depression, and gambling problems, and who had served as his stenographer for his novel The Gambler. After Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky went on to write a number of other classics of world literature. These include The Idiot, published in 1868, and another masterwork, The Brothers Karamazov, published in 1880. He died in 1881.


Dostoevsky’s novels and other writings were major influences on twentieth-century literature and philosophy. Some people saw the political themes of his novels as prescient depictions of life under the Soviet regime. The existentialist movement that took shape in the middle of the twentieth century looked to him for his descriptions of human beings confronting mortality, despair, and the anxiety of choice. Writers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre valued Dostoevsky’s writing for his profound insights into human dilemmas, which, along with his style, themes, and unforgettable characters, continue to influence writers more than a century after his death.


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