“Crime and Punishment” is one of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s most significant works. It is a tale of murder and desperation, sin and guilt, atonement and hopelessness. It is a story of one way – from sins to the day of reckoning.
Human nature is always balancing on the verge of shadow and light. Sometimes it is a saint, but sometimes it is ready for a sin. The black color of evil and flaw is often confronted with white color of good and righteousness. Every soul is prepared to make a step to cross this thin verge and to kill, to steal, to forget about Christian way of life and – as a result – to lose moral cleanliness. Christianity is sure to be a behavioral discipline with particular moral code. Such sins as murder, lying, greed, stealing are so usual for people, that sometimes they even don’t feel guilty, don’t regret. It is the main fault in Christendom because God is sure to forgive every penitent sinner.
The idea of the novel, as far as I can see, is to show a broad world structure, a structure of the psychological world of mind, a fabric of society and to depict their role in creating and destroying an individual small world of a person. Fyodor Dostoyevsky describes skillfully the deeply human drama of Raskolnikov, a sensitive intellectual driven by poverty and the belief of his exemption from the moral law. The author provides a provocative look at the human motivations of obsession and possession with unflinching philosophical and ethical insight. The critics commonly declared that in Raskolnikov, Dostoevsky had affronted all students and that the character was a madman whom Dostoevsky attempted to portray as typical of the younger generation. Dostoevsky described the contemporary social reality. It is necessary to admit that Raskolnikov’s murdering of the old moneylender was the result of his dire poverty and that, in fact, Raskolnikov’s position in society left him no alternative but murder and robbery if he were to keep body and soul together, and eventually realize his tremendous natural abilities
Raskolnikov – a young man of middle-class origin who is living in need expelled from the university.
From superficial and weak thinking, having been influenced by specific “unfinished” ideas in the air, he decides to get himself out of a difficult situation quickly by killing an old woman, a usurer, and widow of a government servant. The old woman is crazy, deaf, sick, greedy, and evil. She charges immoral rates of interest, devours the well-being of others, and, having reduced her younger sister to the state of a servant, oppresses her with work. She is good for nothing. “Why does she live?” “Is she useful to anyone at all?” These and other questions carry the young man. A typical for all times and all generations’ dream – to be wealthy and happy – makes Raskolnikov sin against the lows of society and the lows of Christianity. He decides to kill and rob the old moneylender to make his mother, who is living in the provinces, happy. He wishes to save his sister from the libidinous importunities of the head of the estate where she is serving as a lady’s companion. Then he wants to finish his studies, go abroad and be for the rest of his life honest, firm, and unflinching in fulfilling his humanitarian duty toward humankind. According to him, this would “make up for the crime.” After the act, the psychological process of the crime unfolds. Questions which he cannot resolve well up in the murderer; feelings he had not foreseen or suspected torment his heart. God’s truth and natural law take their toll, and he feels forced at last to give himself up. He is forced even if it means dying in prison, so that he may once again be part of the people. The feeling of separation and isolation from humankind, nature, and the law of truth take their toll. The criminal decides to accept suffering to redeem his deed.
“Crime and Punishment” – the title of this novel is sure to contain the main idea of the Dostoevsky’s work. Therefore, this grand psychological human drama shows not a single individual fall, but numerous: every person in this novel is paying for his or her flaw. That’s why we can observe this book as an extended gallery of miserable payers to Fate or Heaven. The old moneylender had paid for her greed and immorality. Raskolnikov – the tool of Heaven to punish the greedy old pawnbroker – had paid for his proud and murder. Other persons in the novel were paying for their fear and weakness to change something in their lives with endless unhappiness and hopelessness. Here is a realistic and straightforward Dostoevsky’s world outlook: everything in our lives depends on our moral power and ability to make the last straw of suffering the first step to the light, not to the darkness of crimes because God can see everything and he pays for our deeds. That’s why any day of your life can turn into the Day of reckoning.
1. Mochulsky, Dostoevsky: His Life and Works;
2. Terras, F. M. Dostoevsky: Life, Work, and Criticism;
3. Crime and Punishment, Norton Critical Edition, “Background” pp. 467-483.
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