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Raskolnikov’s Crime: The Novel Crime and Punishment Essay

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Updated: Oct 5th, 2021

The novel Crime and Punishment portrays and analyzes events and psychological factors which led the main character, Raskolnikov, to a terrible crime. This is by no means to say that Raskolnikov’s crime is the socially determined effect of these abstract causes. Dostoevsky had a streak of the naturalist in him, but it was always subsidiary to other conceptions. Isolation, poverty, fever, the unnatural city and psychological changes are the main drivers and factors which led Raskolnikov to crime and wrong doing.

Psychological changes and depressions were the main drivers of crime, which upset Raskolnikov’s nervous system. The young doctor Zossimov, whom Razumikhin fetches to attend to Raskolnikov, says that Raskolnikov’s condition has both a material origin caused by the squalid circumstances in which he lives, and a moral one. Zossimov is a lightly drawn character, but he is firmly credited by the author with a shrewdness equal to Porfiry’s—and considerably more benevolent. Later in the book Raskolnikov’s mother says that the meanness of his lodging must have caused his melancholy; Raskolnikov answers, listlessly, “yes, the lodging had a great deal to do with it” (Dostoevsky). It is evident that the mother in accepting this explanation as total is grasping at a delusive comfort, and that Raskolnikov’s abstracted reply can only deepen her anxiety.

Poverty was another factor which forced Raskolnikov to commit a crime. Dostoevsky portrays that Razumikhin like Raskolnikov is poor; unlike Raskolnikov he keeps himself by working. It seems that we are not going to find an answer easily. We must drop premature theorizing and attend to detail. Raskolnikov, socially isolated, becomes fascinated by a theory according to which freedom consists in total emancipation from convention. He is violently excited by a conversation he overhears in which someone who holds a theory like his puts the theory in the form of a practical challenge: Kill this socially harmful person. The person is, by chance, known to Raskolnikov. He plans and carries out the murder in a sort of stupor, proceeding methodically and yet uncomprehendingly, with just enough consciousness of what he is doing to experience inarticulate terror when the real world presents him with awkward, accidental features not formulated in his plan. Despite the fact that the crime according to his theory was to provide a financial basis for an ambitious future, Raskolnikov does not even count the money he takes from the old woman, and, having hidden it away, makes no further use of it. At the moment of the killing his body seems to perform independently of his mind:

He pulled the axe quite out, swung it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without effort, brought the blunt side down on her head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this but as soon as he had once brought the axe down, his strength returned to him (Dostoevsky).

Similarly, when Razumikhin offers him money Raskolnikov gives it back though his need is dire. Lest the reader should take this for some sort of chivalry, Dostoevsky has Raskolnikov mistaken for a beggar a page later and given twenty copecks; this time he has no opportunity to return the money. If Raskolnikov’s plight was merely economic he would obviously have lost no time in buying himself a square meal. Instead he throws the money in the Neva. When after the murder Raskolnikov is able to help the Marmeladov family, he finds that his nervous condition is greatly improved; he says that his life has become “real.” Further, when his mother and sister visit him in his lodgings, after their long arduous journey, he speaks to them in a disconnected fashion, breaks out in great anger against the proposed marriage of Dounia to Luzhin, and then lies down on a sofa and turns his face to the wall. The next day he appears much calmer and his friends are delighted. He soberly apologizes to his mother and sister and his language is somewhat more orderly.

Unnatural city was another factor which led the main hero to a crime. Raskolnikov wonders in a moment of reverie “why in all great cities men are not just impelled by necessity, but somehow peculiarly inclined to live and settle in just those parts of the city where there are no gardens or fountains, where there is most dirt and stench and all sorts of filth” (Dostoevsky). He himself is drawn to them, as if by an instinctive and obscure fellow-feeling that is a refutation of his intellectual theory about himself. Here, for all its squalor, is quintessential urban life. The streets are Raskolnikov’s contact with life; it may seem tautological to add, with urban life, but his walk to the islands gives the addition a special point.

Here is Nature and, as might be expected, “the greenness and freshness were at first pleasing to his tired eyes, accustomed to the dust of the city and the huge houses that hemmed him in and oppressed him. Here there were no taverns, no closeness, no stench. Soon even these new, pleasant sensations turned morbid and irritating” (Dostoevsky). The world of nature offers no lasting solace and no way out because Raskolnikov’s whole world is the man-made one of the city; there and there alone his drama arises, and there it must be played out. Theories, like cities, are made by men and their creators must come to terms with them; escape cannot remove the problem of reconciling “living life” with the conditions of city life. Looking for a place to sit, he notices a woman walking in front of him, and his attention fastens on her, “at first reluctantly and, as it were, with annoyance, and then more and more intently” (Dostoevsky). So even amid the sickly life of the streets, Raskolnikov finds a kind of tentative community. His own is a tragedy of the garret, and it is kept significantly apart from his experience out of doors.

Preceding the doubt about what is or is not hallucination, and giving it foundation, are actual illness and fever. The illness is often—as with Raskolnikov—unspecified, apparently a generally run-down condition that leaves the body weak and the mind dangerously active. This is the natural state of the dreamer, his physical debility reflecting his alienation from “normal life,” his feverish mental freedom representing both a contributing cause and a compensation. The fever is the badge of alienation, poverty, malnutrition—the mark of the Petersburg hero or antihero in Dostoevsky’s heroically antiheroic Petersburg. Dreams are born of it, which represent themselves as spiritual illness, and they move the dreamer “to see the fantastic in everything” (Dostoevsky). The earliest essays in this direction are the most extreme: Neither of them was fully appreciated until the twentieth century—though it is only fair to add that this latter-day appreciation was prompted by a desire unknown to earlier critics, the desire to see their place in the process that led to the later works. Through Raskolnikov’s fever and distraction, objective time, place, and situation shine through; their color is that of the filter, but the outlines are their own.

Isolation and loneliness in a city led Raskolnikov to a murder. Isolation comes finally to define so much of Dostoevsky’s myth of Petersburg.It is first of all symbolized by the tiny and sordidly furnished rooms and apartments: Raskolnikov’s “coffin,” Alyona’s spotless and characterless den, the crowded pigsty of the Marmeladovs—and before them the underground man’s “mouse hole,” the cubicle Ivan Petrovich takes over from old Smith, the room of the narrator of ” White Nights,” “into which a different sun shines,” Golyadkin’s refuge, and Devushkin’s side of the kitchen. Located often at the top of dark and dirty stairways, in huge blocks of apartment buildings, these are the discrete cells of which the city is made, and their trapped inhabitants are a product or outgrowth of the fantastic city. It is possible to dream in such places, but hardly to live, as the physical and spiritual health of Dostoevsky’s characters plainly testifies. After months spent in a sort of private dream, Raskolnikov, indeed no free man but rather a solidly programmed being, hears quite objectively from another’s lips the imperative which has before existed only within the dream. Hardly knowing why, he finds himself moving into action.

In sum, part of the horror of these mental states consists in the fact that a process is started in the mind which then continues in a sort of disengagement from the rest, independent of the subject’s control. Raskolnikov reconstructs the circumstances of seduction and even imagines the scene of her return home. The causes of crime are both social and psychological reflecting personality disorders and poverty affected a common man. To some extent, fever abd isolation are caused by poverty and lack of money, the emblem of their spiritual states—that this becomes a feature in its own right of the city. Dissolution dominated his personality and creates fear and terror.

Works Cited

Dostoyevsky, F. Crime and Punishment. Web.

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