Crime and Punishment

Raskolnikov: Surely it is not beginning already! Surely it is not my punishment coming upon me? It is! (Dostoevsky, chapter 2)

One of the greatest Russian writers Fyodor Dostoevsky sought to show a way of moral renewal of the human society. A human being is the center of life; the sight of the writer is arrested to individuality. Crime and Punishment is one of his novels that emerge from intensive thoughts about the value of human life and the moral limits of willfulness.

The plot is centered around the main character, Rodion Raskolnikov, whose mind is busy with the crime theory. Raskolnikov is very poor; he can pay neither his education at the university, nor his own accommodation. His mother and sister are also poor. Soon he learns that his sister Dunya Raskolnikova is ready to marry a person she does not love for the sake of money to help her family. It was the final nail in the coffin of his patience. Raskolnikov commits a deliberate murder of an old woman-moneylender and the compelled murder of her sister, the witness.

However, Raskolnikov cannot use the stolen things; he hides them. An awful life of a criminal begins since then. The delicate psychology and the judgment of his own act are colorfully depicted by Dostoevsky. More new heroes are involved in the action of the novel. He meets a lonely, intimidated poor girl Sonia Marmeladova, who became a prostitute in order to support her family and in whom he finds a soul mate and support.

One feels the severity and hopelessness of life of the main hero starting from the very first pages of the novel. The former student Raskolnikov lives in a tiny room “under the roof of a high five-storey house”. The main characteristics of the room represented in the novel are narrowness and tightness. The hero, who lives in such a room, feels spiritual emptiness and loneliness. Throughout the novel Raskolnikov is selfishly fenced off from other people; only at the end of the novel does he come to be sympathetic with the whole world. Starting from this moment, his spiritual revival begins.

The murder committed by Raskolnikov is described in the novel. The meaning of the title Crime and Punishment implies the fact that the punishment is inevitable. The one who commits a crime is always responsible before the law. Nobody can escape from his own voice of conscience. One cannot escape from him- or herself. Therefore, punishment is important. When a person is punished, he or she feels relief.

‘Crime? What crime?’ he cried in sudden fury. That I killed a vile noxious insect, an old pawnbroker woman, of use to no one! . . . Killing her was atonement for forty sins. She was sucking the life out of poor people. Was that a crime? (Dostoevsky, chapter 7).

Crime becomes one of the most important attributes of the time, a modern phenomenon for the writer. He sees the cause of it in the human degradation, in the moral decline of the society.  The old values that the old generation of Russian people had been brought up on fell away; life generates various social theories, propagandizing the idea of revolutionary struggle for a fine bright future. Atheism becomes popular.

Pushing his hero to commit the murder, Dostoevsky seeks to realize the causes of such a cruel idea occurring in Raskolnikov’s consciousness. The environment plays a very important role for Raskolnikov. However, it also influences Sonia Marmeladova, Katerina Ivanovna, and many others. Why are they not murderers?  The essence of the crime lies not only in the fact that Raskolnikov kills the old woman-moneylender but also in the fact that he allows this murder for himself, gets a false idea of who should live and who should not. According to Dostoevsky, only God has a right to decide human destinies.  Therefore, Rodion Raskolnikov places himself in the position of God, mentally compares himself to Him.  Thus, what are the consequences of this?

According to the writer, legal punishment that exists in the society does not make any sense. It can only cause the feeling of even greater embitterment. The torments of conscience, the feeling of a constant moral dissatisfaction become a punishment for Dostoevsky’s heroes. A person comes to the clarification of things only when he or she finds God in himself and becomes a person who realizes what a moral ideal is. This is possible only in the case a criminal finds inner resources for communication with a person who can show this moral ideal. Sonia becomes such a person for Raskolnikov.

If he has a conscience he will suffer for his mistake. That will be punishment - as well as the prison (Dostoevsky, chapter 19).

The most terrible punishment for a person is the fact that he loses the opportunity to stay with people. Having committed a murder that was meant to be completely justified by the “theory”, Raskolnikov feels separated from his mother and sister; he cannot communicate on a par with them. Why? The reason is that Raskolnikov realizes he is a criminal, a person who has no more right to lead a normal life. However, this generates another crime: Raskolnikov actually kills his mother. The crime is never committed only once; it always involves new crimes.

It is impossible to avoid punishment. Punishment includes the measures the state takes regarding the person who commits the crime. Punishment is the social consequence of the crime. It represents the coercion applied to the one who committed a crime.  The coercion of punishment implies causing or promising to cause any kind of deprivation or suffering to the criminal; therefore, any punishment cuts across with anything that the punished person is in possession of - his property, freedom, honor, rights, corporal inviolability, and sometimes even his life.

Punishment has both legal and social function. The legal function of punishment implies that it acts as a measure of realization of the criminal’s liability. The social function of punishment is expressed in the idea that it represents a means of fighting the crime and protecting the society against the violation of its main values. Punishment is a means of self-defense that the society employs against the violation of the conditions of its existence, no matter what these conditions are. Punishment does not only allow to indemnify to a certain extent the loss caused by the committed crime and to restore the public order, but it also strengthens the social climate by means creating the confidence that the violation of rights, freedoms, and public interests does not remain unaddressed by the state, which applies retaliatory measures of influence to lawbreakers. These functions always act as a unit, because the application of socially unreasonable measures of punishment on formal legal grounds is unjustified; socially reasonable application of punishment without the corresponding legal form is, in the same way, inadmissible. Thus, the right of the state to apply punishment follows the safety problem of the joint life of people in the society, preserving the legal way of public life indefeasible. Punishment is, as a rule, applied only by the court and only in a legislatively established procedural order. The only way to avoid punishment is not to commit a crime.

Dostoevsky’s perspective on Raskolnikov’s controversial idea that some people are above the law and have the right to commit a crime is univocal. The motive of Dostoevsky’s creative work is legal. For the author, a tribunal is a tool of justice that is carried out through the callous law. However, the concept of legal justice for Dostoevsky is only a private option of equality: all people are equal before the law.  He opposes an image of a universal brotherhood, a brotherhood which excludes the concept of fault and, therefore, does not need justice to this callous, pagan ideal of revolution. For Dostoevsky, any tribunal is not right, except for the Last Judgment. The contradiction between the tribunal and the Last Judgment also makes an ingenious conflict of his whole work. Dostoevsky managed to merge these two incompatible concepts into one. The tribunal in his novel Crime and Punishment is the impartial analysis of a psychological reality, consideration of human motives and acts. However, tribunal is also an exposure of wrong ideas for the sake of the only correct one. It is the way to truth which is made through overcoming the lie.

Nevertheless, the ignorance of truth does not prevent people from holding a court. They apply for the highest justice, having thus only a law. However, the highest justice, according to Dostoevsky, is a prerogative of only one court: the Last Judgment, which will come at the end of times, when there will be no lie at all. Exposing lie, Dostoevsky approaches this apocalyptic end.  Therefore, the more contradictory his hero (Raskolnikov) is, the more false there is in him, the more important his role is. The shadow of the Last Judgment completely changes the reality in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Each thought, each act in our terrestrial life is reflected in the other, eternal life. However, thus Dostoevsky destroys the border between the top and the bottom. The world represented by him is uniform. It is both momentary and eternal at the same time.

In the 21st century, money rules the world. It is possible to buy everything: glory, popularity, power, respect, and even people, as in the case with a bank employee, who embezzled money from the customer’s account. The future of a person who committed a crime is an obligatory punishment. A bank employee endured all ways of punishment, including jail sentence, community service, a letter of apologies, and a life time of criminal record. However, pangs of conscience are the most severe punishment. They will devastate the soul of the person and force him to endure sufferings.

Every epoch introduces its own problems. Every epoch is characterized by its own perception of things, different from that of the previous one and the following ones. All of us sometimes forget about such vital values as morals, honor, and duty in the course of our lives. Such great writers as Dostoevsky remind us of those.

Rich people think they are allowed to do everything: kill, rob, commit violence, embezzle somebody’s money, and still remain unpunished. Rodion Raskolnikov believed great people have a right to commit a crime, that it will be only a step on the way to great accomplishments. He decided to become a lord over people, and for this purpose he killed the moneylender Alyona Ivanovna. Can money and power allow a person to kill with impunity? This question is the most important, and it is left without an answer.

The novel represents the most valuable morals that a literary artist can give a reader. It is the life that can be lived adequately or lost so quickly, life that becomes terrible, life which can give so many pleasures or doom to cruel torments. The novel is the process of passing of the main character through “all circles of life” to which he gets not having come to God’s court. The eternal pain, similar to the pain of the Christ, accompanies him everywhere, tormenting him from the very beginning of the way that he chose. This way is a way against oneself, the truth, beliefs, the Christ, and the mankind.

The author devoted only few lines of the first chapter to Raskolnikov’s crime. However, sufferings and punishments pursue the hero during the remaining five chapters. He dooms himself to mortal torments caused even by the very intention to commit a crime. Thus, when comparing Raskolnikov to a bank employee who embezzled the money of a bank customer and was punished, one should note that he also passed through all circles of life, all ways of punishment, including self-punishment and the absence of soul harmony.

Neither predecessors of Dostoevsky, nor his followers did manage to show the painful soul covered with wounds. It became a fundamental theme in the work of this great psychologist. Certainly, the greatness of the genius of Dostoevsky lies in that he posed and tried to resolve such global issues as life and immortality, the good and the evil in the world, belief and unbelief, the ratio of the personality and society etc.

Dostoevsky’s novel does not simply teeter on the brink between the good and evil, God and the devil, life and spiritual death. Undoubtedly, a person cannot live without the blessing from above.  The devil can trap him or her, having appeared behind the mask of lie. Dostoevsky tried to describe the hero being captured by the devil - himself.  Having decided on his murder, the hero oversteps not God but himself. He destroys himself even without being aware of that. The Christ personifies the harmony of the soul and the body. Therefore, Crime and Punishment is a novel about a human soul, which is able to love and hate, to distinguish the truth of light from the temptations of hell, or, not having such a “talent”, “due to die”, destroyed by its own passions instead of infernal “games” of the devil.

The writer gave a correct title to his immortal novel - a title which does not only designate the main problem but also gives a way for thinking whether there are crimes in the human life or not, whether punishment will follow them, and what should be done for liberating the soul from this terrible oppression. Dostoevsky shows one of the solutions of this problem: it can be resolved not by means of power but by means of belief. However, people always should remember that punishment will immediately follow any crime.

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