There is a thin line between good and evil. “Great men smash laws, smash old ways, in order to create new ones, great men are not afraid to by criminals,”( Raskolnikov). In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s legendary Russian novel Crime and Punishment, Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov (Rodya, Rodenka, or Rodka), commits murder for the idea that great men can break laws and get away with it. Never afraid to tackle the complex topics of humanity, Dostoyevsky plays the role of “Devil’s Advocate” and directs the reader to contemplate their personal perception of what is good and what is evil.
I’m going to further dissect and state personal opinions on Raskolnikov’s theory, as well as show the correlation between Pre-20th Century Russian Literary works and what is essentially Russian about Russian Literature. This theory has been called the “extraordinary man” theory by critics of the novel. About half way through the story, Dostoyevsky decides to bless us with an article that Rodya wrote and had published in an accredited news journal. Basically, the article reveals Raskolnikov’s inner workings and the idea that men are separated into “ordinary” and “extraordinary.
The so called ordinary men are expected to follow all laws placed by authority. However; the extraordinary men are able to break the laws placed forth by society. This is how Raskolnikov justifies killing the pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna and her sister Lizaveta Ivanovna. He believes himself to be “extraordinary. ” Raskolnikov even compares himself to Napoleon and the murders that he carried out while in his European military campaign. Raskolnikov believed that Napolean was above society’s laws and “extraordinary” among the world’s elite.
Historically, I think that he saw Napoleon’s war machine and all the deaths caused by the little guy, as nothing but a means to an end that would benefit humanity. So does that make Napoleon an evil person because he interfered with the natural allotted time given to other humans? Or is he considered a heroic figure that changed the world for the better? The line between good and evil appears to be a thin one that doesn’t always stay on a constant trajectory. Or does it? That’s the beauty of Dostoyevsky’s writing.
He really doesn’t give us any answers, but simply provides more questions; and maybe that is what society needs to focus on when establishing laws. So who decides what is good and what is evil? Who decides what acceptable human behavior is? Someone has to lead. There’s always someone on the top of the food chain with the filet mignon and lobster tail. The “extraordinary” man naturally leads the “ordinary. ” He has more power than his neighbor. Both are necessary for harmony.
But the real question that Dostoyevsky makes me ponder; is what gives another person, regardless of their social economic status, the right to places laws upon another individual. Like policeman, for example, just because someone has decided to make their occupation a policeman, does that give them the right to have authority over other people? For example, if two brothers were born at exactly the same time, will one by more powerful than the other? One always plays the cop and the other always plays the robber.
They grow up and the one that always played the cop becomes a policeman. The one that always played the robber becomes a textile business owner. They are both morally the same when it comes to good and evil. They both tilt towards good. The Policeman brother gets away with drinking and driving because he is a man of authority. The other brother forgets to use a turn signal and is harassed by this human being, just like him but in a government uniform, and gets thrown in jail for illegally operating a vehicle while impaired.
Granted, neither of them should be drinking and driving, but what I want to touch on is the outcome of the two when they are caught doing the exact same thing; that we as humans have made illegal. Marijuana is legal in a few of our states, but illegal in all the others. What makes California and Colorado different? These “extraordinary” politicians and wealthy individuals with power, influence the course of history. So the answer is only concluded with more questions in a Tolstoyevsky (Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky) manner of promoting free will of mind and action.
The fence between righteousness and wicked acts blurs from time to time. Rodya is a victim to believing he is invincible, which is common in young lads of his age, away from home for the first time in a big city. Not to mention that he is in a poor spiritual condition. He obviously doesn’t believe in a higher power. My religious beliefs oblige me to stand on the good side of the fence. While others who have lost their way, want to climb this metaphorical fence, to see what is on the other side. I can attest to that from personal experience when I was away from home for the first time too.
But with Rodya, the intensity of his deviation from the path of righteousness is so great, that he completely is on the wrong side of the fence. His mind is playing tricks on itself in the form a guilty conscience and he I think he might be bi polar because one minute he is in a state of panic and sees the ghosts of his victims. Then the next minute, he is in the restaurant sipping coffee with a policeman and in a stellar and cocky mood. This shift in personality seems to happen throughout the entire story. To sample and reinvent Shakespeare’s immortal line, “To murder or not to murder?
That is the question”, that Rodya must explore. I’m in the opinion that no mortal should interfere with another mortal’s allotted time. Usually that seems to be the homogenous opinion amongst human beings in general. Although, for many different reasons, there seem to be some natural born killers. But any upstanding, God-fearing citizen that is worth a damn in my eyes, believes in the theory,” Murder is bad and the preservation of life is good. ” Rodya thinks that Alyona Ivanovna’s money can help him accomplish good deeds in his future; therefore cancelling out the evil murders.
I see his logic in that theory, but it is completely controlled by the forces of evil and is a sure way of self-destruction. So where is this line between good and evil? What variables decide what a crime consists of and why individuals are able to justify punishing these acts in a way that they see righteousness? Dostoyevsky’s leading lady, Sonya, turns to religion to answer these questions; while working as a prostitute (interesting paradox). Rodya asks her “how do you keep from drowning yourself in the river, wouldn’t it be easier? ” Sonya replies” I pray.
Porfiry Petrovitch, the government detective who is in charge of the murder, lives life by societies’ laws and exhibits a prideful disposition. It is his job to bring the murderer to justice. Dostoyevsky outdid himself when he created Petrovitch’s character I think. He is an intellectual man who uses modern psychology to solve crimes. He suspects Rodya early on in the story, but psychological spins his head into a paranoid frenzy. He does this because he is actually trying to help him with the cucumber he just pickled. Petrovitch is the closest thing to a therapist that Rodya can get.
Unfortunately he is also the man that is charged with serving justice for the betterment of Russia. His loyalty to his country is one of his main defining characteristics; along with advanced intelligence in Psychology. Rodya attends a social function and spares a few words with Petrovitch about the pending investigation. So they are socializing in the same room, just feet away from each other, both acting perfectly civilized and confident in their convictions. What I’m trying to get you to focus on is their positions in society.
Rodya is a very young and inexperienced college dropout. Petrovich is considerably older and has had more time to gain experience. They are both equal in that they are co-existing in the world, yet unequal because one of them has had more time to gain more power. But there is a sense that Petrovitch sees potential in the young lad. To touch on how the “Russian Uniqueness” shines through in the novel, I’ve come to the conclusion that Pre-20th Century Russian literature, directly correlates with the mood and state of mind of the Russian culture during that era.
Correct me if I’m wrong about this. The Russian people during that era, when Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, seem to be frustrated with the Russian identity and morale of their country. Its uniqueness could only have occurred in Russia. Preppard hit the nail on the head in the syllabus stating “Russian literature has always been known for the poignant way in which it presents all manner of moral, ethical, and philosophical questions. ” Why are the Russians so good at dissecting the difficult questions in life?
I think it simply because they have it so bad, that they are physically and mentally pushed into a different state of mind than the rest of the world. Life’s so tough that they are forced to deal with sorrow and pain. But with the sorrow and pain, comes the beautifully tragic and eccentric human interest stories. Dostoyevsky’s image of St. Petersburg, as he describes throughout the novel, is dark and full of poverty. It’s like those people lived such a miserable existence, that Dostoyevsky had to dig deep into his imagination and pull out what he wanted the world to be like.
I think that would be a way to escape from a dreary reality. Looking around Dostoyevsky’s Petersburg, the lack of visual stimuli to the brain would make me retreat deeper into my thoughts so I could handle waking up every day in a “Shithole” as Rodya called it. Not to mention the anxiety and conflict that Nihilism caused to the Russian identity. Now I’m curious and intrigued with what Russia would be like? I lived in dreary and dark Germany for a few years and that was an interesting experience to say the least. Searching the internet, I saw a statement that compared Russia’s climate to that of our ery own Michigan.
Drawing on my personal experience as an Air Force child growing up in in Eastern Europe, South Korea and many of the fifty United States, I’ve observed a direct correlation between people’s overall feeling of well-being and the climatic weather patterns for that location on the globe. The climate affects the mood of the people, the people are the culture and writers are a product of their cultural environment. I always remember the German wet rainy and cloudy skies with a very little amount of Sun.
No sunlight can cause depression; and depression can cause the mind to reflect much more inwardly on the human condition. I’ve experienced this first hand when I moved from Honolulu, Hawaii to Seattle, Washington in 2004. In Hawaii, although the cost of living placed me on the edge of poverty, I was happy and carefree. The sun kept me warm and just an all-around sense of wellbeing. Seattle, Washington, which for the purpose or this theoretical assumption of mine, is similar to Russian sun exposure or lack thereof. It was the total opposite of Hawaii in every way.
I had a great job and was set financially. But there was no sense of wellbeing. The sun was always blocked by a thick hazy canopy of clouds. Everyone seemed on edge and depressed, even violent. I was miserable, but I wrote my best poetry there. The Grunge musical genre was started out of Seattle. Grunge is much like alternative Rock music, with other musical genres such as: hardcore punk, Heavy Metal and Indie Rock; along with the use of distorted electric guitars combined with indifferent and spiritless lyrics. The Grunge music genre was a direct effect of the mood of those local North Westerners.
There have been credible scientific studies on this exact condition. I found an experiment that took place at the Minnesota State University entitled, The Impact of Weather Conditions on Mood Variability in Geographically Relocated Versus Non-Relocated Individuals Jamie M. Scott Minnesota State University, Mankato. In a nutshell, they compared individuals emotional condition (mood) living in a location that receives little sun, to individuals living in a sunnier geographical location. The results yielded a drastic difference in the participant’s mood.
An elevated and euphoric feeling was portrayed by those living in the sun. (www. mnsu. edu/urc/journal/2007/scott. pdf) But just because Rodya was depressed and in a dark place emotionally, it’s still not okay for him to commit a double homicide because he thinks he is Napoleonic. I saw some major shifts in state of mind in Rodya. He would go from bored, to sad to happy and confident and then into fearful anxiety. If I was Razumihkin (Dmitri Prokofitch) , Rodya’s good friend from the University, I would have acted exactly how he did and got Rodya a doctor. Unfortunately, Rodya needed a therapist and some Prozac.
But come to think of it, Razumihikin is really the only character that makes sense. He seems emotionally stable and overall in a generally positive and happy mood. That’s really strange that I just thought about Razumihkin and his role in the story. He is kind of a another paradox in the fact that he plays an important part in the plot, but most of the time he seems invisible and for that reason he sticks out to me. But he did go fetch Zossimov, the doctor for Rodya. Zossimov, like many of the other supporting characters, had a chance to stop Rodya from committing murder.
If he psychoanalyzed him like a Shrink would do, maybe none of this would ever happen. If he knew that Rodya was comparing himself to “extraordinary” men such as Napoleon and Ghandi, I think Zossimov had enough common sense sit him down and say something along the lines of ”I’m sure we’ve all felt like we were meant for something bigger and extra ordinary at some point or another. Well at least I can speak for myself in saying that I’ve felt better than everyone else before. Like I was the “chosen one” and Sun would ask me permission to shine.
It wasn’t until I went out and experienced life, your age, did I realize that I am just one person out of billions. Sometimes if you hold your head too high, it will get hit by a tree branch and you will be knocked down. ” I think maybe that was how Rodya could have been feeling. Like he was superior and would never get caught, because he is Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov by God! Let us go further into Raskolnikov’s psyche, and find why he believes himself to be extraordinary. He comes from the Russian countryside, where his mother, Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikov and sister Dunya, sipped borsch from a “silver spoon”.
Obviously they were living a descent life in the country. Wanting the family to keep up the lifestyle, Dunya decides to sacrifice her happiness by marrying Luzhin for his money so that her brother can attend the University. So he’s been babied and placed on a pedestal by his family his whole life. He also seems to have the “college” mentality of superior intellect. He gets to St. Petersburg and complains to Nastasya, who is his landlady’s maid, that he shouldn’t be living in such an inferior residence. Rodya takes a walk to the bar where he meets Sonya.
Sonya is being harassed for her occupation as prostitute. She notices Rodya and establishes rapport with him by asking him to take her drunken father home. Semyon Zakharovitch Marmeladov, a recently fired government employee and alcoholic, can tell just by looking at him that he is “a man of education. ” So in that mentality and at that wild age of feeling 10 feet tall and bullet proof, (from about 16 to 25), you would think that his confidence would be high and he would be well equipped to compete with whomever or whatever stands in his way.
Especially an uneducated “Louse” and “scum that needs to be scrapped from my shoes,” like Alyona Ivanovna. That’s based on my own opinions of course. It’s safe to say that Dostoyevsky didn’t have the answers to all of the questions brought up in the novel. Instead, I think he promotes the idea of answering these questions with more informed and detailed questions. To take the unapproachable difficult issues and talk them to death until they are completely understood. There’s no right or wrong answer, only the process of understanding the difficult issue.
Does Raskolnikov repent and climb back on the good side of the fence? I think so. Unfortunately, it takes him serving around 7 years hard labor as prisoner. But I believe that is all he would need to see the error of his ways. Like I said, he was a victim to feeling invincible, which is not uncommon for males his age. There were times when I felt that he might get away with the murder. Entertaining that idea for a second, I think it would only be a matter of time before his conscience takes over. Petrovich sums it up the best, “We will make him suffer, but will he make himself suffer? ”