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Reasons for Moral Mistakes in F. Dostoevsky’ Characters Essay

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Updated: Nov 12th, 2021

Confined Morality

Dostoevsky describes pictures of St. Petersburg, described in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, demands our attention the claustrophobia one can experience – the streets are tight and narrow, and seem to place pressure and come down on those who live there. Looking to Raskolnikov within the city, we come to know that he constantly sees the ‘yellowness’ of the city. The heat of St. Petersburg comes down on him, and he feels indifferent to another man’s life. This creates in him sickness and disgust for his way of living. “At the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, towards evening, a young man left the closet he rented from tenants in S—–y Lane, walked out to the street, and slowly, as if indecisively, headed for the K—–n Bridge”(3). Here many readers see not the peculiarity of St. Petersburg’s climate in midsummer, but also its affection when committing a crime. Furthermore, we should note the particular emphasis on the description of spatial peculiarities of rooms in the novel.

Additionally, a neurosis of Raskolnikov is that he has a tendency to simplify everything – even to the extent of his crime, which he compares to “physical derangement” and “piece of dry bread.” As mentioned earlier, the tightness of the city can cause claustrophobia. This, at first sight, seems just to be the picture of Raskolnikov’s cramped bedroom or Sonya’s flat, which is compared to a barn: “Sonia’s room looked like a barn; it was a very irregular quadrangle and this gave it a grotesque appearance….” (4) However, beyond the physical dimensions of the room, we ought to look at Raskolnikov’s psyche regarding to everything including Sonya’s relatives, particularly, her father, who was always drunk. Additionally, this claustrophobia is also a result of his poverty. We see that he constantly mentions rich people and his envy and resentment for them – saying that they are of no use to society. Looking at the house where Raskolnikov lived: “The small room into which the young man walked, with yellow wallpaper, geraniums and muslin curtains in the windows, was at that moment brightly lit by the setting sun”(7). Set in the greater context of the book, the “setting sun” here seems to suggest a general decline of Raskolnikov’s conscience which transforms to promote his malicious intent.

The world of literature is the art reflected on paper. To this day, many writes and their works still irritate our conscience. During times of progress, this flow of psychological pressure never stops, especially when the morality of a character comes into question.

The outstanding Russian classic writer of the Nineteenth Century, Fyodor Dostoevsky always singled out the reasons for moral mistakes in his characters. In his books, he creates a space to examine both the morals and spirituality of his protagonists. On the pages of his novels, Dostoevsky penetrates into our minds like a surgeon and to show us the good and the bad possible motives of our nature. He certainly liked and felt a deep devotion to turn people towards the right way, to prepare us for Judgment Day.

Dostoevsky was in exile in Siberia and once a real threat of death nearly had ruined his life. At that moment he writes utterly important words, namely: “The existence comes when nonexistence threatens it.” This is the thesis that compelled him to write “Crime and Punishment,” and is certainly a theme that drives the novel. Following the main stylistic devices of his epoch Dostoevsky uses a wide range of symbols, allegories, similes in his book. This specially concerns a spacial description, which was one of the author’s tools in depicting the reality of ordinary people in tsarist Russia of nineteenth century.

In this novel, Dostoevsky paints the consciousness and reasoning of the protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, as well as a picture of those who surround him. Raskolnikov considers killing and robbing a pawnbroker to establish a way out from his miserable life, which was grasped in “claws” of envy towards rich people in terms of shortage of space. However, beyond a common sense of morality, Raskolnikov perverts this brutal act, and sees it as a kind of benefit to people. Committing a triple crime (pawnbroker’s sister was pregnant at the moment of crime) he tries to acquit himself logically. However, he is faced with the reasoning of the deed he has done, in particular, owing to Sonya Marmeladova’s treatment of life and her position within life. Her kind heart tends to make us forget about her way life. Here, the author demonstrates the conflict between characters and the places and professions they hold within society. We come to find out that she is a prostitute, but does so to support her family because of her drunkard father who does not provide for them. Nevertheless, because we see the story through the lens of Raskolnikov and thus are introduced to his judgments, we as the reader are bombarded with his indomitable contempt and judgment which Dostoevsky places in the novel.

First, let us define the sense of the novel. Does it concern only the legal sphere of a matter? What sort of crime as well as punishment does the author describe in his work? Of course, it is of juridical interference, but what are the roots of such crime like Raskolnikov’s? The fullness of heart is the result of the materialization of deeds.

Fyodor Dostoevsky in the text of the novel presents the ability to criticize his characters – especially the protagonist. The author here does not idealize him, but rather, opposes him. The action-packed plot of the text tends to rally our thoughts in the theme of Raskolnikov’s redemption. The author, like a Creator, looks down on him forecasting his failure and triumph of justice. It reminds me of the idea of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden. They never thought that their sin would cause expulsion and separation from God – highlighting the tendency for people to centralize themselves in their own lives, and thus not seeing the bigger picture. Even if you are not aware of the laws of the country, it does not release you from responsibility. Raskolnikov, on the contrary, tries to avoid the reality. In a feverish state within tight rooms he confesses to Sonya about the crime, and she does not yield him to Porfiry.

Convinced and imbued with Christian virtue she believes that he will do this himself. She never attempts to fully find him guilty in that situation, and rather than judging him, she acts as a messenger of good news, pointing him towards coming to a realization of what he’s done, on his own. The cruel scene of killing old pawnbroker by Raskolnikov displays the main character not only in action, but also in some feelings reflected in his psyhe: “He felt that he was losing his head, that he was almost frightened, so frightened that if she were to look like that and not say a word for another half minute, he thought he would have run away from her.” (1) After committing crime the author grabs reader’s attention on the room where he dropped after a crime: “He ran at once into the bedroom with them. It was a very small room with a whole shrine of holy images.” (1) The moral part of this scene should make Rodion stop actually. The walls with holy images are sanctuary for orthodox people, they are aimed to fill people with goodness, mercy and love, but Raskolnikov, unfortunately, realizes it then and there.

There are a few other characters in the book who can point us to a further understanding of Raskolnikov’s interior – namely Svidrigaylov and Porfiry. A mercenary motivated by his greed, he finds no guilt when he wants to seduce Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya, in the novel. When Rodion was looking for Svidrigaylov in the tavern, again one can notice a mind narrowness of a man by describing the room:” He found Svidrigaïlov in a tiny back room.” (4) Dostoevsky shows us through Raskolnikov’s thoughts that he wants to do harm to him, but unexpectedly commits suicide. Here we can see the hand of the writer, who tries to impulse the character to confess himself. The character which Dostoevsky uses to drive Raskolnikov to confession, is Porfiry. In opposition to the protagonist, he is able to figure out all the features of his character and work with Raskolnikov’s psychology to influence his actions.

How should Raskolnikov live in such tightness as we see during the whole narration in the novel? He hates every supposed desire to make up the way out of the justice. In this narrowness he is constrained under the circumstances in private life. Back to the theme of housing and personal space, we see that Raskolnikov feels that housing is a problem that meant to ruin his life. He considers this problem at the beginning of the novel. Above it all, his poverty drove him to his actions, and the claustrophobia indicates a tightening madness that we can see through Katerina Marmeladov’s final descent. With regards to the room where the funeral takes place one cannot but admit a huge hall full of people. This scene shows that a man acquires more space of his own only after death. It is one of the standpoints as for the spatial descriptions in the novel.

Dostoevsky sets up a scene where the motif of the cross points Raskolnikov in a new direction. Raskolnikov’s transformation is paralleled with the crucifixion of Jesus – particularly when Sonya gives Rodion a little cross, which she held before, to direct him to move in a direction like that of “Via Dolorosa.” The scene when he kneels in the square of the town shows a progression and a movement towards his redemption. When he reaches the square, he kneels down to kiss the earth – indicating that at last; he seems to have realized his mistake and the fate of destiny. He brings himself to think that his actions are deserving of the lesson he must learn through his punishment. Sonya, talking with him, asks to come with, but Raskolnikov self-critically notes: “And can’t I come with you? No, but kneel down and pray to God for me. Your prayer perhaps will reach Him.” (7) Thus, he gives his confession and is thus sentenced to an exile in Siberia.

Additionally, the structure of the novel seems to embed a sense of superstition from the author. There are six chapters of disobedience, and an epilogue of redemption. Six here, symbolizes the number of misfortune. The author makes up his mind in providing us with such allegories; we can further understand the progression of Raskolnikov’s consciousness, as he moves from complete misguidance and perversion, into a great realization. One cannot but realize the spatial influence of St. Petersburg on the main character; his feelings and reasoning were scoped within tightness and closeness in space, which caused littleness in mind.

At the core of the novel, and I believe Dostoevsky’s message, is that of the social morality and individual responsibility of a man. Raskolnikov illuminates the processes of a crime – as Dostoevsky brings us into his inner thoughts, providing us with the reasons of the crime. Furthermore, we see a manifestation, as well as the results of this crime – this showing us that Raskolnikov’s crime does hold consequence. In modern society people do not mention the story of Raskolnikov; they get into the habit of doing wrong steps, while the panacea is invented already. We are great at finding something new for us when the solutions are known. We discover remorse only after the mistakes. We surely cannot prevent it, but it can be easily decreased. A so-called deathbed repentance of the criminals will never make them happy, but in times of confession their hearts turn, leading to renewal. Why do we need such wrong footsteps in life? Who will direct us in time? As I discussed earlier, the world is better perceived through literature – and thus, literature holds the great potential to direct our thoughts and conscience.

Dostoevsky certainly describes this process of crime, punishment and redemption in his novel. He coincides the striving of Raskolnikov to enlarge a space of his interests and ideas seen graphically in the pictures of interior side of rooms and houses on the whole, but, as a result, protagonist’s deeds direct him fairly to the tighter conditions, making out the exile. However, in humanity, there seems to be a tendency to fall back into our misdeeds, even with knowledge of the better route. Perhaps, each man has to go through his own cycle of crime, punishment and redemption – but Dostoevsky provides an example and tale for us to look to, which hopefully teaches us and prevents us from going down the same path as Raskolnikov.

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