Novel Crime And Punishment Fyodor Dostoevsky English Literature Essay
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is a young, impoverished man who lives on his own in St. Petersburg. He is barely able to survive because he has ceased to attend his classes at the university and has lost his source of income, which was tutoring. As a result, he has not been able to pay his rent and has to avoid his landlord. The little money he receives comes from his mother and the few trinkets he is able to pawn to a local broker named Alyona Ivanova. Alyona Ivanova is referred to as “an awful old harpy,” and we are told that Raskolnikov “felt an insurmountable repulsion for her at the first glance,” (pg. 57). Because Raskolnikov has kept himself isolated from the majority of the surrounding population, he has spent his unoccupied time thinking.
Dostoevsky introduces the conflict within Raskolnikov early in the first chapter. Raskolnikov is contemplating some mysterious thing that is not announced to the reader and simply referred to as that. In his mind, he continuously goes back and forth over whether he is truly thinking of doing that or if it is just a thought going around in his head. As he is finishing his thoughts, he attempts to shake off whatever that is by telling himself, “It is not that serious at all. It’s simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything,” but after a short moment he ends with, “Yes, maybe it is a plaything,” (Dostoevsky, pg. 2). In this quotation the “maybe” allows a reader to assume that Raskolnikov may, in fact, be considering this thing. The conversation Raskolnikov holds with his self, as he goes back and forth over this issue, shows that he his mind is conflicted. This thought so early in the novel lets us see Raskolnikov is already thinking to himself but is not even sure of his own thoughts. Such indecision over what it now an unmentioned matter sets the tone for this inner-conflict that he struggles with throughout the novel and that nearly consumes him.
When the truth of what that is comes out, readers grasp the extremity of the inner-dual of Raskolnikov. That, the murder of an innocent woman, is something truly unimaginable by, what society considers, a rational person. Raskolnikov is endlessly at odds with whether or not this is just an idea formed in his head or if he is willing to commit such an act. In a dream he sees the brutal torture of a horse, which leads to its death. After the dream Raskolnikov wonders how he could even contemplate murder and cursed the thought of it saying, “…My God! Anyway I couldn’t bring myself to do it! I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it!” (Dostoevsky, pg. 54). Such adamant renouncement of the act is suddenly and easily altered as he strolls upon a conversation where he discovers that Alyona Ivanova, the woman he is thinking of murdering, will be home alone at a certain time. Raskolnikov sees this as fate and completely forgetting about his dream once again alters his mindset and decides to commit the crime. The plot thickens and the clash continues inside the mind of Raskolnikov, as what was once just a “plaything” grows into a reality.
Throughout the novel the reader is able to see the tremendous amount of unsupported pride Raskolnikov holds for himself. Although he lives in what seems to be a slum in St. Petersburg, does not pay his rent, and he has recently dropped out of school, he believes that he is better than those around him. In spite of the level of pride he possesses he is still content to leave his house dressed as though he has no regard for his appearance. With that said, in explaining an article that he wrote, he says,
“I simply hinted that an extraordinary man has the right…that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep…certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfilment of his idea,”
(Dostoevsky, pg. 226)
whatever that idea may be. He feels that he is so superior to others that he even has the right to take the life of another human being, though he adds, “sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity,” (Dostoevsky, pg. 226). He attempts to validate his point by saying that it is more reasonable for a superior being to break the law when the act benefits all of society. This allows the reader to see that his mind is clearly mixed up. He believes that he is superior, though he does nothing to prove it. His sole “claim to fame” is this article that was published in a newspaper and that does not contain his signature, only his initials.
One of the most significant views of Raskolnikov’s dueling personalities can be seen through his interaction with others. “The moral-psychological traits of his character incorporate this antinomy between instinctive kindness, sympathy, and pity…” (Unkown). Theses are the words of a law student who explains that when acting on instinct Raskolnikov is kind, sympathetic and has pity for others. While he can often be extremely compassionate for those around him his admitted feeling of superiority over others leads him to the mistreatment of them as well as his delusional ideal mentioned in his article “On Crime.” The compassion he shows is frequently counteracted, because after performing an act of kindness Raskolnikov is often upset at himself for doing the deed. “What a stupid thing I’ve done, they have Sonia and I want it myself,” (Dostoevsky, pg. 23) Raskolnikov says this after he leaves some money, which he does not have much of, for a friend and his poor family. This shows his feeling of regret for doing what is clearly a good deed. Later, he shows regret after protecting a drunken young girl who is being pursued by an older man. The fact that Raskolnikov is not able to make what he sees as quality decisions in spur of the moment situations can be attributed to the confusion at play in his mind and the insanity it is causing. His personality is always at odds and Dostoevsky uses the continual shifting in his character’s head to show this. Raskolnikov’s idea that he is superior is disproved not by his actions but by the regret he has for making decisions that seem to be rational.
In the weeks following Raskolnikov’s crime his mental condition deteriorates even more. After many days of sick sleep he is surrounded by many of the people he knows and some he does not know. Raskolnikov finds that he actually feels he is wrong for what he did. The conflict in his head shifts from the decision of whether or not to take the life of the pawnbroker, to whether or not he should confess to his crime. “However, Raskolnikov's beliefs are undermined by the guilt and illness he experiences after the murder, creating a split in which he desires to alleviate his guilt and also desires to affirm himself as extraordinary,” (TheDoctor). This new “split” in his mind grows out of the original conflict. His guilt is something that is not completely shown, but it is present. Raskolnikov believes, even as a convict in a Siberian labor camp, that his crime would have been something understandable had not the pawnbroker’s innocent sister walked in and seen him. Raskolnikov’s guilt grows due to those he is closest to. Sonia encourages Raskolnikov to confess his crime because it is the only way he could be redeemed. Even with the one he loves most telling him to confess, Raskolnikov’s pride is still present and he possesses a need to prove that he is truly a superior being. With all these desires going on in his head Raskolnikov does not know how to swallow his pride and accept that the only way he can exist is through repentance.
In his insanity Raskolnikov is driven to do many fanatical things as he abandons his sister, mother, and best friend, and nearly lets the truth, that he committed the murders, slip out. He is once again alienated from everyone, except Sonia. The relationship between Raskolnikov and Sonia grows strong and he learns to trust her. “In the book's final scene Raskolnikov finds himself in a state of near delirium at the police station, and he confesses his crime,” (Unknown). This quotation explains Raskolnikov’s mental condition as the story is coming near to a close. Raskolnikov is so taken by his insanity that he wonders through the city in an attempt to publicly confess. He is so horrified by the crowd that he cannot bring himself to do the confession publicly. His mind could barely function as he walked into the police station where he would finally declare his guilt and own up to his crime. When he hears of the suicide of someone he knows he becomes so confused that he walks out of the police station. His mind is now so weak that he can be sidetracked easily. He reenters the station when he sees Sonia, the one who has finally convinced him to confess. It seems as though she has to actually control his mind in the final scenes in order for him to have enough strength to confess.
Crime and Punishment, as a novel, contains many ideas of the author Fyodor Dostoevsky. Nearly everything in the book revolves around his character Raskolnikov. Raskolnikov’s inner-struggle accounts for a majority of the novel. From his love for his family, to his devotion to his friends, and even his willingness to risk his life for strangers, he can be considered good. Due to his selfishness and pride, which he allows to alienate him from society, he may be considered just the opposite. When these multiple personalities mix with the ideals he has created during his extended periods of separation from others, it generates a man whose mind is torn into many directions. Raskolnikov is unable to choose his own direction and allows chance to control his actions. He is close to going completely insane and he probably would have if not for the relationship formed with Sonia in which she takes the place of chance and guides Raskolnikov in the direction of redemption.
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