The sentence I'm referring to is this one.

‘And what if I am wrong,’ he cried suddenly after a moment’s thought. ‘What if man is not really a scoundrel, man in general, I mean, the whole race of mankind—then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors and there are no barriers and it’s all as it should be.’

It's the very last sentence of the second chapter.

I have read a German version but that doesn't really matter. The translation is very similar.

I don't fully understand what this sentence really means. Can someone explain it?

This seems to be an important sentence since we don't get to hear much from Raskolnikov in this chapter besides this sentence. Or maybe the question is: What does Raskolnikov mean with this sentence?

2 Answers 2


When Rodion says he could be wrong, he means his words for the previous sentence:

Hurrah for Sonia! What a mine they've dug there! And they're making the most of it! Yes, they are making the most of it! They've wept over it and grown used to it. Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!

So he says that man must be a scoundrel to accept the fact that their own daughter works as a prostitute in order to support the family.

And if that doesn't mean that man is the scoundrel, if that is acceptable in the world of man, then there is no morality at all, and all the notions of good and bad are just superstitions produced by fear. And there are no barriers.

That's how I understand this passage.

  • Yea that seems reasonable. In context with the previous sentence, it can understand this interpretation. thank you for your answer. Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 11:24
  • 3
    ... with the unspoken conclusion that if nobody is really a scoundrel and it's all "prejudice, simply artifical terrors", then a certain crazy axe-murderer isn't really a scoundrel either. I think that's worth adding as it ties into the larger context of the novel.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 7, 2018 at 15:29
  • So is he accepting that there are none to be blamed for the wrongs of society? Or that the distinction between right and wrong is simply irrelevant? Commented Apr 19, 2021 at 12:55
  • @BellRinger at that point Raskolnikov is pondering what if it's norm to be amoral, and it's not some people that are "scoundrels", but all humans in general are amoral, and moral people are some kind of exception. And morality is just a complex of "prejudice" and "artificial terrors".
    – user28434
    Commented Jan 22 at 14:35

English translation is very close to the original text:

Ну а коли я соврал, — воскликнул он вдруг невольно, — коли действительно не подлец человек, весь вообще, весь род то есть человеческий, то значит, что остальное всё — предрассудки, одни только страхи напущенные, и нет никаких преград, и так тому и следует быть!..

My interpretation is that scoundrels adapt themselves to difficulties of life, accept the unfairness. But the true man would rebel, break the rules, rise above the barriers and do anything he wants. And that's the way it should be.

UPDATE: The ending of chapter 2 discusses how family of Sonya Marmeladova started using her and accepted it as a new normal. Raskolnikov calls them scoundrels. As for "rising above the barriers" that's what the whole story is about. Actions of Raskolnikov are based on his beliefs that a true man can do whatever he wants, ignoring the society norms.

  • 2
    Can you explain why this is your interpretation, or offer some kind of support for this interpretation? An answer without backup or evidence doesn't really help future readers of the question, unless there's something to explain it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 0:39
  • Yea an explanation would be great. I don't really know how you would get to this interpretation. Commented Jun 5, 2018 at 10:18

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