I was looking through old papers on the computer and I found this masterpiece from my senior year of high school. Such a lashing I gave whoever this guy was, and it was definitely after a breakup. I was mad because I felt that he was afraid of commitment, and just used me. Anyway, I chose to use writing as an outlet, and it definitely paid off in the end. This was a term paper for the AP Literature course I took in my senior year of high school, about the women character in Crime and Punishment and A Picture of Dorian Gray and how the way they are seen and the way they are treated is wrong.
Sorry this is so long...I just felt the need to share it. So here it is:
In a world devoid of belief systems, or any kind of commitment to someone or something whatsoever, humanity cries out for validation and the assurance that life means something and that what actions one takes lead to something greater. For many centuries, it was men who determined and defined what a woman’s role was and what she was worth. Historically, a woman was not permitted to make her own choices, establish her own role in society, and could not have the rights that a full (male) citizen was granted. She was considered to be a sex object, a second class citizen, and in some more extreme cultures, property. However, a woman defines her own worth, and regardless of what the men determine she is, a woman has the right to have dignity and not to have it violated.
In both Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, a “throw away” culture affects a woman’s dignity and how she is seen by the men around her when she is haphazardly disregarded and cast aside by the man she is committed to. A woman’s dignity is violated by derogatory remarks and stereotypes as well as a man’s fear of commitment (or lack thereof), but it affects them in different ways. The men in both of these novels have been taught a set of morals and values (such as chastity and fidelity), but they most certainly do not follow these morals and values a majority of the time. Since humanity is continuously led toward purpose, the male characters in both of these novels cannot stay in a committed relationship. Instead, the male characters throw women aside, and replace them with someone else.
In Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky provides multiple views women- some as relentless tyrants, as kind, gentle saviors, and as driven and determined. Pope John Paul II writes,” The human being is a person, a subject who decides for himself. At the same time, man ‘cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self’” (Mulieris Dignitatem 18, quoting Gaudium et Spes, 24). Katherine Ivanova and Sonia, the two most prominent female characters, literally give of themselves, but are hurt by a man’s lack of commitment, especially that of Marmeladov, whom Raskolnikov meets in a bar.
Marmeladov he is committed to his wife and family, but he has run away and not been home for days at a time. He personifies a man’s fear and lack of commitment. He married Katherine Ivanova for the right reasons, or what he thought to be the right reasons. At the time he offered Katherine his hand, his daughter Sonia was fourteen. He married Katherine only because it was socially acceptable to do so.
“I could not bear to look on such suffering. You may judge for yourself sir, how hard up she was. She agreed to marry me” (1.2.14)!
Katherine Ivanova is “lofty in spirit” while he is “a scoundrel” because “her feelings have been enobled by education.” Although she has been educated by those in a higher class, Katherine is physically abusive to Marmeladov, who says,
“She’s unjust…I know, of course, I know myself that when she pulls my hair, she does it out of pity” (pp 1.1.11).
She, by beating Marmeladov, is saying what Adele’s Turning Tables is saying, “I won’t let you close enough that you can hurt me,” because Marmeladov is making her work way harder than she should. He made a commitment to Katherine, and broke it by running away, thus making her into The Bull Moose, a sight to be seen, especially when he came home for the last time:
“The neighbors heard of it, and by afternoon/ cars lined the road. The children teased him/ with alder switches and he gazed at them/ like an old tolerant collie” (11-14).
Once Marmelodov started running away, things got worse for the family, now with three younger children as well. Katherine Ivanova was not able to work because she was very sick, and Marmelodov had become a drunkard, who would disappear from home, not returning for days at a time. This and many other things he does goes
“Against the dignity of marriage; they destroy the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2390).
Raskolnikov has compassion for Katerina and does not seem to judge her. Perhaps because she is poor he does not place her in the same category as he does other women.
It was up to Sonia to help the family earn money, and she turned to the only thing available. Prostitution. Even in this time period, prostitution was a dishonor. Sonia did not have a choice: she had to commit herself to helping her family in any way possible. Pope John Paul II wrote, in 1995, that “Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity” (1995 Letter to Women, 3). Sonia is prevented from being herself. Her father’s inconsistency caused this. Marmeladov acknowledges that he has ruined her when he says, “my daughter lives by the yellow ticket….” (1.2.12). What he means by the “yellow ticket”, is that she is forced into prostitution. Sonia then falls in love with a killer (Raskolnikov) and moves all the way across the country to be with him while he does time for the crime, never forgetting her faith.
She has been dealt a lot in her life, and all the stress of her family life only compounds that negative impact. She is constantly making sacrifices, for the sake of her family, and knows that. Sonia is the embodiment of pure faith and commitment, and is what ‘”love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being"(CCC 2397) means. She loves, and this does not matter if the love she has is returned or not, because she stands strong, saying “As hard as you try, no I will never be knocked down” (Adele).
The women in The Picture of Dorian Gray have little to no substance. Sibyl, the most significant of the women in the novel, aside from Lord Henry Wotton’s wife, has little to no substance. This becomes quite clear when she falls in love with Dorian, especially when her mother tells her,
“My child, you are far too young to think of falling in love. Besides, what do you know of this young man? You don’t even know his name” (Wilde 55).
Her mother has said what she felt was necessary, but “we need only think of how the gift of motherhood is often penalized rather than rewarded, even though humanity owes its very survival to this gift” (1995 Letter to Women). Her motherhood, her commitment, is penalized by watching Sibyl crumble when she learns that Dorian merely loves her for her acting, not for who she is. Lord Henry also teaches Dorian to go for looks and not for personality. He puts labels on certain women, and continually puts them all below himself. “Never marry a woman with straw coloured hair, Dorian,’ he said after a few puffs” (Wilde 43).
Lord Henry is the noncommittal influence on Dorian. He makes derogatory remarks and tells Dorian what to do and what not to do. His philosophizing and theories on women and marriage cause Dorian’s morals to crumble, and his relationships soon follow. Dorian also flits from thing to thing, because “It is only the faithful who know of the trivial side of love. It is the faithless who know love’s tragedies” (Wilde 14). Lord Henry also makes it clear that he is approving of infidelity when he comments, “What a fuss people make about fidelity” (Wilde 29)!This is in direct contradiction with chastity, which “means the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman” (CCC 2337). Neither Lord Henry nor Dorian is able to be chaste.
As a result of their inability to be chaste, they are “Turning tables” (Adele). When someone is not living a life of chastity, this also makes it impossible to live a life of friendship, because “the virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality” (CCC 2437). Dorian’s inability to be chaste appears in his love of temporal things, material possessions and happiness. Lord Henry’s inability to be chaste results in the departure of his wife. Going for looks and nothing else has made these two men into “a gelded moose yoked with ox for plowing” (17).
Lack of commitment violates a woman’s dignity. But a woman, with her “feminine dignity” and “feminine genius” can stand her own and say “I’ll be my own savior, standing on my own two feet” (Adele).