Crime and Punishment
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Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is one of the most brilliant Russian Literature novels in exploration of human nature. His choosing of the words "crime" and "punishment" are apt in reflecting the theme in Crime and Punishment that crime is achieved on numerous levels and leads to many forms of punishment, much beyond corporal constraints. Through the character of Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky illustrates that crime and punishment are psychological, social and personal assaults on human existence.
Roskolnikov finds himself lost. He feels that his life is leading him nowhere and he wants to do something about it. The measures he takes to acquire a state of peace are what make this novel a masterpiece. He goes to such an extreme as to take another person's life just so he can feel important once again. That is the crime. The punishment, though, is not as clear. Almost the entire novel is his punishment. Roskolnikov's punishment is the torture he undergoes as his mind slowly reaches insanity. The novel delves deep into the mind of Roskolnikov as he reaches out for others in the physical world to heal what he is feeling inside himself. From the moment he commits the crime he is struck with a feeling of regret, and this feeling grows until it reaches the point of complete take-over of his body and mind.
The Crime of Pride
The greatest of Raskolnikov's crimes is pride. Murder is a product of his pride, his Napoleonic idea that it is up to him to save the world from the pathetic existence of the old money lender. His youth, exceptional intellect, and this pride which Dostoevsky mentions in his notes all contribute to the young student's wondering if he himself is, in fact, an extraordinary man. But again this "motive" of sorts has already begun to be invalidated before the murder has even been completed. Raskolnikov begins to realize over the next few days following the murder that, despite all the careful thought and preparation to which he had devoted considerable time in the preceding six months, the actual execution of the murder had been an extremely sloppy affair. He was late from the beginning (which led to his ending up having to kill Lizaveta as well), only managed to grab an axe by happenstance from a porter's lodge, was hardly able to steal anything of real value from the dead pawnbroker, left the door to her flat wide open throughout the entire proceedings, and ended up only escaping unseen from the scene of the crime by sheer luck, dropping some of the stolen jewels in a landing below as he did so.
Your research paper may also want to discusses Fyodor Dostoyevsky's great novel, Crime and Punishment, in terms of its tone and in terms of the incredible power which that tone gives it. To read this book, this student found, was to exist-while reading it-on an emotional roller coaster in which one was made to feel some very strong emotions, some of those emotions being unpleasant and some being very uplifting.
- The misery of the Marmeladovs was terribly sad, but Sonia's self-sacrifice and courage were inspiring.
- Raskolnikov's pride seemed at some points to be absurd and made one angry; at other times his forthright willingness to face unpleasant truths made him seem admirable and noble.
- Luzhin, of course, provoked contempt and loathing.
One of the remarkable things about the novel is that it is about people living in a society that is very unlike our own and yet we feel that these people are very familiar to us; we feel that we understand them very well indeed.
In the character of Raskolnikov we have something that is self-contradictory. He has two opposite qualities: self-disgust and a kind of total arrogance. These two aspects of his character are immediately apparent; they leap off the page from the very beginning of the novel. He finds himself partly to blame for the terrible predicament his mother and sister find themselves in with respect to Luzhin and he compares what Dunya has to do respecting Luzhin to what Sonia must do as a prostitute. He rages at himself over this, "You simply have to do something now, do you understand that? And what are you doing now? You're robbing them". But on the other side of this self-hatred is a hugely swollen ego, for Raskolnikov has taken upon himself to plot the destruction of another human being, and he accomplishes two murders, not one, and the second, that of Lizaveta, who is an innocent bystander, the sister of the original victim, cannot be excused, even in Raskolnikov's distorted terms, as the murder of the mean, spiteful, cheating old pawn broker can be. Because the book views the world and man's place in it from a religious perspective, Raskolnikov's arrogance has placed him in danger of damnation and he can only escape this fate by accepting suffering. All this is fully laid out in the scene with Sonia where he confesses that he has murdered Lizaveta and the old woman.
There is another meeting between Raskolnikov and Sonia, however, one that occurs before the confession scene, and in it the whole tone of the book seems to get boiled down to a few words. Sonia, in a mood of intense religious exaltation, has been reading from the Fourth Gospel where the story of the raising of Lazarus is told. She stops because of being overwhelmed by emotion. Dostoyevsky then tells us, "She was still shivering feverishly. The candle-end had long been flickering in the bent candle-stick, dimly lighting up in that poverty-stricken room the murderer and the harlot who had met so strangely over the reading of that eternal book" . Here, in a nutshell, we have an example of the immense power of Dostoyevsky's writing. The religiosity of this scene is profound and it gives us a sense of the utter pathos of these two poor sinners, and a sense also that, despite what they have become, there is still a possibility that they may be redeemed. The squalor of their circumstances, of course, adds to the poignancy and power of the scene. The tone of the book as a whole is dark and terrible. It takes us down into stinking places in terms of human suffering and human misbehavior. But it also shines a light of hope and the combination of doing both makes this one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written.And, in the end, the book is uplifting because it does offer hope of redemption. There are works of literature in which pure despair is the message, in which pain and suffering teach the characters who undergo it nothing, books that take the position that there is no meaning to life and that life is just a kind of brief moment in a dark void. Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is not such a book; it tells us that life is meaningful and that our sins may be forgiven if we take the appropriate steps, if we take "our suffering." It is essentially optimistic. It ends by saying "Yes" to life.
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