Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Monday, November 12, 2012

The famous Russian novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky delves into the psychological battle that wages inside an individual.  As the characters begin to question the truth of morality and the inherency of knowledge, they stumble upon several key philosophical concepts in relation to empirical wisdom and its daily application.

The first question presented in Dostoevsky's novel relates to the hidden foundation of intellect: "What can I know?"  The main character Raskolnikov is presented with this dilemma at the beginning of the book.   His thoughts on morality begin with the presence of a dark and menacing notion.  Though the reader is not immediately informed about what the postulation entails, it becomes evident that Raskolnikov is planning a wicked scheme.  The reader hopes that morality can prevail, that the malevolent "protagonist" we have been introduced to will come to know the difference between right and wrong.  However, it quickly becomes evident that the unspoken desires of the readers do not come to fruition.  Through the literary depiction of the man's poverty, suffering and eventual crime, two main philosophies are presented, that of Existentialism and Nihilism.  Existentialism is, in essence, the theory that stresses the existence of individuals as free beings who determine their own morality and development by actions of free will.  The central character accepts life to be both existential and empirical, meaning that he denies the existence of equitable values and focuses instead on the reality of human freedom.  It is this that sparks his internal struggle that is manifested in the sinister murder of the pawnbroker.  In addition, Nihilism is the theory that there is no objective morals.  Dostoevsky showed disdain for both of these beliefs by demonstrating the punishment for Raskolnikov that was grounded on both morality and justice.

This also clearly links to the second question answered in the book: "What ought I to do?"  The main character committed a grave sin and lived to bear the burden of his actions.  Guilt and fear haunted him both when awake and when asleep.  Though repentance was not fully acknowledged or accepted until the end, Raskolnikov did begin to regret his actions and he realizes the detrimental ramifications of his behavior.  This punishment that was both internal through grief and external by the conviction to live in Siberia depicted the change in morality that Raskolnikov encounters.  He learned about what he ought to have done when he could not afford the rent and he discovers what he ought to do in the future.

Lastly, the book clearly presents a point about hope.  Even when Raskolnikov was sentenced to disciplinary service in Siberia, he found hope in his future life.  His moral regeneration was largely sparked by his relationship with Sonya, the daughter of Marmeladov.  She shared his feelings of isolation and she was also the first one to hear him confess to the crime.  Throughout the novel, she was a symbol of virtue, conviction and ethical stability.  She proved to be a great source of strength and continued to be his friend even after the conviction.  Raskolnikov found that there is freedom in confession and hope in seeking redemption.

Throughout Crime and Punishment, many important philosophical questions are presented and discussed, particularly those such as Existentialism and Nihilism.  This book truly paints an insightful view about the root of both knowledge and morals in an individual.

Any other thoughts on philosophy in literature?  I find it quite intriguing!



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