Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Land of the Free, Home of...Fugitive Russian Axe Murderers?
It makes the red, white, and blue blood pump a little more strongly in our veins when we realize that, even in one of the greatest Russian novels ever written, everybody's talking about 'Murica.
But, since none of the characters have ever been there, America is kind of a symbol for them. When we consider that America was going through a really difficult time in the mid-1860s (namely, the Civil War), it's interesting to see what kind of a symbol America was for Dostoevsky (or at least his characters) during that time.
Check out this line:
"They'll find me, Razumihin will find me. Better escape altogether...far away...to America, and let them do their worst!" (2.3.93).
For Raskolnikov, America seems like a place a person can go to disappear, a place that will let in anybody. Svidrigaïlov seems to have overheard Raskolnikov's comment to Razumihin. Much later in the novel he tells him:
"But if you are convinced that one mustn't listen at doors, but one may murder old women at one's pleasure, you'd better be off to America and make haste." (6.5.19)
Hmmm. Svidrigaïlov seems to be saying that rights to privacy come before victim's rights in America. Maybe this isn't the novel to read out loud on the Fourth of July.
Svidrigaïlov also suggests that America is kind of a scary place. Listen to what he tells Sonia:
"Why, be starting for America, and be stopped by rain! Ha, ha! Good-bye, Sofya Semyonovna, my dear!" (6.6.15)
He's probably also commenting on the journey to America more than America itself...although if he thinks that the American population is made up of roughly 80 percent Russian axe-murdering fugitives, he might actually just be scared of the good ol' USA itself.
All this talk of America reaches a climax with Svidrigaïlov. These next lines are pretty famous, and pretty uncomfortable:
"When you are asked, you just say he was going, he said, to America."
He put the revolver to his right temple. (6.6.60-61)
Is Svidrigaïlov comparing America to suicide? Does he see America as an ideal that he can't reach and, as such, hold it up as the opposite of suicide? It's a little unclear...but we're not going to break out the strawberry shortcake about this quote any time soon.