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Secondary Characters in Crime and Punishment and Siddhartha
Language A1 Assignment 1: Secondary Characters in Crime and Punishment and Siddhartha
Although secondary characters are not the main focus of a novel or literary work, they are often vital aspects that serve deliberate purposes. Secondary characters often serve as a foil to the protagonist. The novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky contains a character named Razumihin, a friend of the protagonist Raskolnikov, who comes from the same socioeconomic background as Raskolnikov but is a common man, not a potential ‘extraordinary man.’ In Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha, the character Govinda, a friend of the title character, remains a follower throughout the novel, never attaining the enlightenment that Siddhartha finds. In both of these novels, the minor characters show a contrast to the accomplishments of the main characters. In this way, the secondary characters are lesser versions of the protagonists.
The secondary characters support the main characters. In Crime and Punishment,Razumihin takes care of Raskolnikov while he is sick by fetching a doctor and watching over him. His concern for Raskolnikov’s health is demonstrated in, “Razumihin would watch over him, would get him a doctor, the best doctor, a consultation…” (292). He also serves as an intermediary between Raskolnikov and his sister and mother, Dounia and Pulcheria. Razumihin tries to alleviate the hostility that Raskolnikov causes by verbally disapproving of his sister’s impending marriage to Luzhin, her fiancée. Razumihin is present at meetings between the family members and helps to calm situations down when they become tense. An example of the tension Raskolnikov creates can be found when Razumihin, Raskolnikov, Dounia, Pulcheria, and Luzhin are all eating dinner together at a restaurant, and a verbal dispute breaks out between Raskolnikov and Luzhin. This can be found in, “‘Rodya!’ cried Pulcheria Alexandrovna. Dounia crimsoned, Razumihin knitted his brows. Luzhin smiled with lofty sarcasm” (282). Furthermore, Razumihin supports Raskolnikov when they discover that the police suspect Raskolnikov of the murders of the pawnbroker and her sister. After he realizes that Raskolnikov is indeed guilty, Razumihin helps him by taking care of his mother and sister. This is demonstrated in the passage, “Razumihin went back to the ladies, how he soothed them, how he protested that Rodya needed rest in his illness, protested that Rodya was sure to come, that he would come every day” (292). He acts as a son and a brother to them and emotionally supports them while Raskolnikov serves out his prison sentence in Siberia. Raskolnikov, while incarcerated and unable to check on them, is reassured about the well-being of his mother and sister because he knows they are in good hands. In Siddhartha, Govinda supports Siddhartha by proclaiming his faith in him and by respecting his decisions, especially when Siddhartha decides to leave home. Govinda is Siddhartha’s closest friend, and he loves Siddhartha so much that he follows him when he leaves to join the Samanas, a group of wandering ascetics. This is shown in, “‘You have come,’ said Siddhartha and smiled. ‘I have come,’ said Govinda” (9). Siddhartha and Govinda make the same endeavors of escaping their Selves, as is shown in, “At his side lived Govinda, his shadow; he travelled along the same path, made the same endeavors” (12). Govinda assures Siddhartha that he will someday be a holy man, as is demonstrated in, “‘You will become a great Samana, Siddhartha…Some day you will be a holy man’” (13). Govinda remains by Siddhartha’s side until the two find the Illustrious Buddha, Gotama. Govinda decides to follow Gotama’s teachings and become a monk, while Siddhartha decides to find enlightenment on his own. However, they meet again several times throughout the novel, and remain friends.
The secondary characters also come from similar backgrounds as the protagonists. In Crime and Punishment, Razumihin and Raskolnikov are friends from college. They live in the same city, Petersburg, and have similar financial means, as can be deduced from, “Razumihin was one of his old comrades from university…He was very poor, and kept himself entirely on what he could earn by work of one sort or another” (49-50). The two characters are roughly the same age and of the same intelligence. However, Raskolnikov has radical ideas about life and people, and Razumihin is a calmer, more docile citizen. This is one of the ways Razumihin shows a contrast to Raskolnikov. He does not have the same intellectual broodings that Raskolnikov has, nor the potential to transcend the law to benefit society, as Raskolnikov believes he might. In Siddhartha, Govinda and Siddhartha grow up in the same town, and are of the same age and beliefs, as is evident in, “Siddhartha, the handsome Brahmin’s son, grew up with his friend Govinda” (1). The two characters leave their hometown together to join the wandering ascetics, and both of them seek a path to enlightenment through denial of the Self. However, later Govinda parts with Siddhartha to follow Gotama, and Siddhartha finds his own path to enlightenment. Here Govinda proves himself a follower of others’ teachings, and Siddhartha shows that he prefers to forge his own path. This is one of the ways Govinda shows a contrast to Siddhartha, and is a lesser version of him. They are seeking the same goal, but go about it in different ways.
Finally, the secondary characters learn something from the protagonists. In Crime and Punishment, Razumihin is a lesser version of Raskolnikov because while the two men are very similar in background and present life situations, Razumihin has none of the radical, original ideas that Raskolnikov harbors. He hears Raskolnikov’s ideas and is shocked and amazed. Razumihin never imagined that there could be people in the world who were destined to transcend the law if they had the personal right to do so, or because they were ‘extraordinary men.’ This is stated in, “‘What? What do you mean? A right to crime? But not because of the influence of environment?’ Razumihin inquired with some alarm even” (241). In Siddhartha, Govinda is always Siddhartha’s friend and follower, rather than his superior or equal. In the end of the novel, the two friends reunite again and Govinda finds that Siddhartha has reached enlightenment. He begs Siddhartha to tell him something that might help lead him to enlightenment as well. This is demonstrated when Govinda says, “I can see…that you have found peace. I realize that I have not found it. Tell me one more word…tell me something that I can conceive, something I can understand! Give me something to help me on my way, Siddhartha” (120). In response, Siddhartha tells him to kiss his forehead. When Govinda does so, he truly perceives enlightenment in the face of his dear friend. He is overwhelmed by the images he sees in Siddhartha’s face, and falls to his knees, weeping and full of veneration for Siddhartha. Govinda himself never actually attains enlightenment, even though he had a teacher to follow, and Siddhartha does, and does it all on his own. This further shows a contrast between the two characters. Siddhartha had the personal drive and intellectual ability to finally reach his goal, and Govinda did not. Thus Govinda is a lesser version of Siddhartha.
A secondary character, while not the main focus of a novel, can still be a major character in it. They often serve as a contrast in a novel, usually to the protagonist. This contrast adds further depth to the characterization of the protagonists, by demonstrating how they are different from those who come from a similar background, or by showing how they approach a situation differently. By including friends of the protagonists, who are similar but lesser versions, the authors demonstrate the significance of the main character’s actions or personality. They illustrate how the main protagonist is different from others, how they are noteworthy. Thus, although a secondary character is often not the main focus of a novel, they often add depth and meaning to characterization.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. Bantam Books: New York, 1987.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Trans. Hilda Rosner. New Directions Publishing Corporation: New York, 1957.