|Genre:||Literature & Fiction|
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, Ch. 5
Dostoevsky second major novel (after "Notes from Underground") "Crime and Punishment" (1865) follows a poor St. Petersburg student , Rodin Romanovich Raskolnikov, and how he is at times elated and other times tormented in the aftermath of killing a woman pawnbroker and her sister in their apartment. Raskolnikov believes at times that the murders were justified, that the money he steals can be of benefit to many, he even gives some away to a struggling family of a drunken ex-civil servant.
At times he sees himself as a great man--another Napoleon, a proto embodiment of Frederic Nietzsche's "Ubermensch" -- believing his actions somehow are just because he is beyond good and evil and transcends morality by a twisted self-affirmation.
But at other times he is brought to despair and the impulse to confess his terrible crime. It is this duality in human nature that Dostoyevsky exploits so well---the currents of reason and irrational (or rational) fear that over takes us and makes either cowards or killers or fools or heroes if they are placed in a situation where they are driven beyond the borders of mundane life.
"But what can I tell you? I have known Rodion for a year and a half; he is moody, melancholy, proud, and haughty; recently (and perhaps for much longer than I know) he has been morbidly depressed and over-anxious aboud his health. He is kind and generous. He doesn't like to display his feelings, and would rather seem heartless than talk about them. Sometimes, however, he is not hypochondriacal at all, but simply inhumanly cold and unfeeling. Really, it is as if he had two separate personalities, each dominating him alternately."--Dimitri Prokofych Razumihin, on his friend Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment Part 3, Chapter 2.
Rereading the book after many years I was struck by how the author drives home this dichotomy of his main character. Like Shakespeare's Hamlet, he is torn between conscience and cold-bloodedness; between flights of egotistical haughtiness and anti-social behavior to acts of crippling doubt and a desire for simple understanding and forgiveness.
Dostoevsky desire for spiritual redemption is also at the heart of the story, not only for Rosolnikov but also for Sonia, the prostitute who also represents an ultimate victory of sorts over the depravity of the modern urban world through the Image of Christ. It is to modern minds an idealistic drive indeed, an avoidance of the great waves of technology and political theories that were so popular in Western Europe and so wrong for Russia (or so the author thought.)
Still, the story is great not for what it says about Russia's political or spiritual world that the author occupied, but for the keen insights into human behavior through characters that occupy a fully dimensional and all-too recognizable landscape. It is no wonder that Dostoevsky writings continue to be studied and admired.