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  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Crime and Punishment - critical review

'Crime and Punishment' by Dostoyevsky follows Raskolnikov, who has just had to drop out of university due to not being able to pay for it. He builds his own theory that in the world there are both 'ordinary' people and 'extraordinary people.' He thinks that he may be one of the few 'extraordinary people' (he uses the example of Napolean). These 'extraordinary' people, he believes, are destined to change the world, and the normal law that applies to ordinary people does not apply to them. Therefore, he uses this philosophy in his decision in murdering a woman who considered evil and useless to society, in order to improve society in the long term. However, when he murders this woman, the woman's sister, an innocent and likeable character enters the crime scene, and Raskolnikov murders her too in fear of being caught. The novel focus on his mental state after his actions. The depression he feels reveals he is not an 'extraordinary' person, who can do these kind of actions without remorse. This is fully confirmed through him admitting to the crime to those that control the law, as this symbolised him recognising and according to the law of which an 'ordinary person' is expected to follow. Crime and Punishment was written in the 19th century St Petesburg, in Tsarist Russia, a capatalist state on the brink of a communist resolution. The mood of general rebellion is shown throughout the novel, not only through the crampt, claustrophic and hot tone of the setting, but also through different characters having different attitudes to their situation: not only obviously Raskolnikov the protagonist, but also Razumikhin, who does not act radically like his friend, making the reader question Raskolnikovs 'need' to commit his crime.

What I really enjoyed in Crime and Punishment were all the different philosophical approaches that were enhanced in the novel through the characters and their actions. Primarily, what I got from the character of Raskolnikov, is within his idea of being an 'extraordinary' person, he uses a consequentialist, and in particular, utilitarianism ideal to justify his actions. By murdering the two woman, he feels it will promote the greatest good for the greatest number, as not only was the woman useless and almost damaging to society, but she was also incredibly rich, and Raskolnikov believed he could use her money to benefit others. However, Dostoyevsky, through the action of Raskolnikov and his physocological impact, pooves that this ideal cannot realistically applied. The sacredness of human life is a prominent message within the novel shown through the after-math of the murder. Even though the old woman that is murdered is considered a burden to society, Dostoyevsky portrays that this does not take away her human integrity and one life cannot be traded for the benefit of others. Dostoyevsky himself spent time in prison after engaging in radical political ideas, and through this exile in Siberia he is said to have realised the sacredness and dignity of each and every human life. The novel displays this clearly in the two stages: before and after the murder. The lack of explanation before the murder compared to that of after, as well as Raskolnikov's state of mind afterwards, echoes the enlightening realisation that Dostoyevsky undertook during his time in Siberia. The novel symbolised this message very effectively through showing it in reverse: by destroying a human life and then, afterwards, realising the unjustness of this. This idea made me think of both Kant's categorical imperative and natural law: having a duty and an existing eternal law to preserve life, regardless of the good or bad consequence. It is the idea that no human is above another, despite human class or usefulness to society.

The existentialist philosophical view is also portrayed through the character of Svidrigailov. Svidrigailov portrays the idea that there is no meaning at all to life, and there is no distinction between good and bad, only what brings pleasure. This hedonistic view also contrasts that of Raskolnikov, because although Raskolnikov commits evil actions, he feels he has a justification for it. Svidrigailov, however, does everything for his own pleasure: both good and bad actions, and he is neither noble or evil because of this. He is an ambiguous character, his language is neutral and emotionless, but he is also an unlikeable character through the fact he is hard to relate to and understand. This may have been intentional, through Dostoyevsky portraying that this hedonistic approach brings no real sense of joy: only momentary pleasure. Svidrigailov's view of life being meaningless is confirmed through his suicide. This is done without thought or emotion, echoing but exaggerating his other actions of doing them for his own desire, despite being good or bad. The character of Svidrigailov was a motif for the absurdness of life, which was also carried through the other characters, in a more positive tone.

The character of Sonya, the prostitute daughter of a drunken man who Raskolnikov meets in the pub at the beginning of the novel, supplies a stark contrast to Raskolnikov. She is especially significant in the way she is the only character who accepts him, even when knowing his actions and intentions. Sonya is a devote Christian, and shows this loving attitude in all her actions. She symbolises goodness, and therefore provides a foil to Raskolnikov. The fact they are connected through this acceptance and their fondness of each other, promotes the idea of good and evil having to exist coherently in a society, meaning they are like light and dark: they cannot exist separately. Sonya sacrifices herself for others, is religious, hopeful and optimistic, and is universally helpful through to the very end when she aids all the convicts as well as Raskolnikov when he goes into prison. Dostoyevsky built such a relation between them, portraying to me their parallel existence. I thought that the novel ended with an optimistic tone through Sonya almost curing Raskolnikov of depression. The ending brings hope with Raskolnikovs rejoice as he realises he has so much to live for, and feels love for Sonya. Dostoyevsky leaves the reader with the character of Roskolnikov having a 'new life' ahead of him, as he undergoes a 'rebirth.' This narrative of Sonya, as well as Raskolnikov, ending with hope about the future, portrayed to me that good is superior and can overcome evil - portraying the message that although they both exist, goodness can almost 'cure' evil.

Overall, the novel takes on many philosophical approaches to life. Through the crime of a murder of a useless member of society, Dostoyevsky teaches that individual's quality of life is not determined by anything except that they exist, and no life is more valuable than the other, despite maybe being specifically useful in certain situations or societies. It is interesting political reflection of humanity, as well as reflecting the building tension in Tsarist Russia.

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