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Crime and Punishment

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Life is a wheel rolling inexorably forward through the temporal realm of existence. There are those that succumb to its motion and there are a certain few, like Christ and Napoleon, who temporarily grasp the wheel and shape all life around them. “Normal” people accept their positions in life and are bound by law and morality. Extraordinary people, on the other hand, supersede the law and forge the direction and progress of society. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is the story of a group of people caught beneath the wheel and their different reactions to their predicament. One individual, Raskolnikov, refuses to acknowledge the bare fact of his mediocrity. In order to prove that he is extraordinary, he kills two innocent people. This despicable action does not bring him glory or prove his superiority, but leads to both his physical, mental, and spiritual destruction. After much inner turmoil and suffering, he discovers that when a person transgresses the boundaries of morality and detaches himself from the rest of humanity, faith in God and faith in others is the only path to redemption.

As the story unfolds, Dostoevsky introduces the reader to Raskolnikov, a troubled young man who is extremely isolated from those who surround him. He lives in a small, dingy, dusty, and dirty room in a small unattractive house. He lives in an abstract world neglecting the real. He is quite separate from all the people with whom he has contact. In the opening chapter, Raskolnikov is said to be, “so completely absorbed in himself, and isolated from his fellows that he dreaded meeting, not only his landlady, but any one at all” (1). People come physically close to him, but everyone is forced to remain distant mentally. He walks through the crowded, noisy, dirty streets of St. Petersburg physically but somehow he never does so mentally, moving through the streets like a zombie, not a man. He is not aware of his location and often jostles bewildered pedestrians. Therefore, at the outset of the novel Dostoevsky illustrates the apparent schism between the mind and body of Raskolnikov.

While living in St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov adopted several of the many new ideas running through the intellectual circles of the time. He even published an article on one in particular. These ideas opened a rift in Raskolnikov himself. After a while, Raskolnikov became despondent due to the poverty and helplessness that surrounded him. In order to prove his superiority, he decided to murder a pawnbroker whom he did not like. Later in the novel, Raskolnikov admits to Sonya that, “Napoleon, that is why I killed her… I did not do the murder to gain wealth and power and to become a benefactor of mankind. I did the murder for myself and myself alone…I wanted to find out then and quickly whether I was a louse like everybody else or a man. Whether I can step over barriers or not” (387-388). He finally shares his emotions with another person, emotions that had been bottled up within him ever since he contemplated committing the murder. Furthermore, at this point, he reveals his true motives and admits their futility in accounting for the murder.

After the murder, his situation is analogous to that of Marmeladov. Whereas Marmeladov reacted to harsh times with passivity as a remedy, Raskolnikov chose action. One defied the wheel, the other begrudgingly approved of it. After the barbaric murder, Raskolnikov’s conscience attacked him unmercifully, offering him no respite. Speaking of the murderer, Razumihin says that, “He is not cunning, not practiced, and probably this was his first crime...He did not know how to rob; he could only murder. It was his first crime, I assure you, his first crime; he lost his head” (142). Raskolnikov was anything but cool, calm, and collected after the murder. He was delirious, proving his incapacity to ignore morals, and, therefore, illustrating his normalcy. When he returned home, the moral blunder relentlessly hammered his rationalization and eventually toppled it. It became evident that though he was intelligent, he was not superior and above the laws and morals of man. Action disproved his belief in himself. His crutch, his belief in his own superiority, had been lost forever. It had sustained him through misery but now it had proven to be illusory. He had attacked the wheel with his intellectualism and he had been mangled.

Dostoevsky then brings Svidrigalov into the story to help the reader understand the character of Raskolnikov. The similarity of Svidrigalov to Raskolnikov in appearance and deed is obvious and serves to alert the reader to their relationship. When Svidrigalov visits Raskolnikov at his house, he says that, “When I came in and saw you lying with your eyes shut, pretending, I said to myself at once ‘Here’s the man’” (285). At this point in the story, both Svidrigalov and Raskolnikov share

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