In his book “Crime and Punishment”, Dostoevsky explores the path of Raskolnikov who has many problems and obstacles throughout his life. He commits murder and is faced with the long and mentally extremely painful journey of seeking redemption.
Raskolnikov believes that by a law of nature men have been “somewhat arbitrarily” divided into two groups of “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. Raskolnikov believes that the duty of the ordinary group is to just exist, in order to form the world and the society. The second group, those who are “extraordinary”, are a step above the normal. They have the ability to overstep normal bounds and violate the rights of those who are simply ordinary. They are the prime movers; they have a right to cross normal societal structures to accomplish those things that they have determined are valid in their conscience. Raskolnikov cites such “extraordinary men” as Newton, Mahomet, and Napoleon. He tells us that Newton had the right to kill hundreds of men in order to bring to the world knowledge of his findings. Napoleon and other leaders created a new word. They overturned laws and created new ones. They had the right to uphold their new ideals, even if it meant killing innocent men. Therefore Raskolnicov believes that some “extraordinary” humans like himself have the right to oppose ordinary social laws in order to create a new social order.
“The first class of people preserve and people the world, the second move
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the world and lead it to its goal.” Raskolnikov also believes that both classes have an
equal right to exist. Without “extraordinary” human race would be stuck. Without the
“ordinary men” the efforts and ideas of “extraordinary” men would be nonexistent.
Both classes are important to the workings of the world. They are dependent
upon one another.
Raskolnikov is obsessed with his “superman theory”. He is constantly trying
to prove that he is part of the “extraordinary” people in the world. He wants to become an important figure such as Napoleon. He believes that certain superior people in a society stand above the ordinary human and moral law. Based on his theory he believes that the murders he commits would make him a part of this high class. To test his thesis, he murders an old woman that is a greedy moneylender. He feels her death is no great loss to society because she preys upon the misery and poverty of her fellow humans. Next, Raskolnikov overhears a man at the bar, “I could kill that damned old woman and make off with her money, I assure you, without the faintest conscience-prick” Raskolnikov had “the very same idea.” It provides another good reason for the murder, as Raskolnikov believes the crime will benefit others. However, once he realized that he had made mistakes, he began to question his theory. After all the frustration, he decided to go to the scene of the crime. This gave him a rush that made him feel invincible. He believed that this would prove if he was truly “super”. Once he realized that he wasn’t part of this class, he suffered a mental breakdown.
Raskolnikov’s suffering has a direct relationship with his guilt over his crimes. It is also due to his recognition of his failure to meet his theory. However another controlling idea behind his punishment is a result of his dual personality and his obsession to prove his theory. He is best represented as being either cold, intellectual and isolated from society, or as being warm and compassionate. The murder is the result of his intellectual side, trying to determine whether or not he fits his “extraordinary man” theory. It was this side of his personality that develops the crime and carries out his plan, forcing the humane side to suffer for his actions. Both Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov are headed down the same path throughout the novel. They share the same goal of redemption. Dunya was the same objective to Svidrigailov as the “superman” theory to Raskolnikov. When they were faced with the failure of reaching their goal, they suffered a massive psychological breakdown. Their different perspectives on life drove them to choose different outcomes in life. Svidrigailov would have rather died than spent life in prison. Therefore he decided to commit suicide. This trait would be found in most super humans. Raskolnikov on the other hand, strived for comfort in life. As soon as Sonya began to comfort him, he easily gave in to her ideas.
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However before his confession to Sonia, Raskolnikov becomes ill and unconscious immediately after the murder, “The conviction that all his faculties, even memory, and the simplest power of reflection were failing him began to be an insufferable torture”. He believed he needed to suffer greatly before he can find redemption from a life of sin. The first sign of Raskolnikov’s suffering is his illness after the murder, his terrifying nightmares and his failure to confess. Also Raskolnikov verbally attacks Sonia for her religious beliefs, calling her “crazy”, suggesting suicide, and stating, “But perhaps there is no God at all.” This example shows that Raskolnikov is deeply troubled, as earlier he decided against suicide. He feels terribly lonely and devastated by his inability to turn to anyone. However, Sonia’s patience and understanding finally helps him to bring himself to confess his crimes, that it was he who murdered the moneylender and her half-sister, Lizaveta. Although she is deeply shocked by his terrible revelation, Sonia promises to share in Raskolnikov’s future suffering and punishment in a Siberia prison camp.
Raskolnikov sees Sonia as a Christ figure, suffering for all of humanity as she willingly prostitutes in order to support a family “He will come in that day and He will ask: Where is the daughter who gave herself for her cross, consumptive step-mother and for the little children of another? Where is the daughter who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness?’ And He will say, Come to Me’.Thy sins which are many are forgiven thee, for thou has loved much – .” Because of the silent cooperation in her suffering and her ability to love, Raskolnikov turns to her to confess and agrees to wear her cross as “symbol of my taking up the cross! – As though I have not suffered much till now!” Sonia and Raskolnikov are two characters that interact on multiple levels, sharing several likenesses. Both are struggling for meaning in a dark and sad existence, and both are generally unhappy people, but they seem to enjoy each other’s presence.
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After his confession, Raskolnikov experienced the physical punishments for
his actions; this time he suffers the loss of conscience upon the self realization that he was after all just an “ordinary man” or even worse so, if he was truly an “extraordinary” one, then his theory had been an invalid waste of time. In order to protect his theory, he confessed and admitted to ordinariness. Raskolnikov is then sentenced for only seven years, due to “his abnormal mental condition.” Raskolnikov is tortured by the others for his disbelief in God, and rudeness to Sonia when she would visit. Raskolnikov’s attitude shifts when he dreams of a world that “was condemned to a terrible new strange plague,” it awakened him to the wrongness of it. Finally, the caring, good side of Raskolnikov defeats his evil side, as he turns to a life of Christianity with Sonia.
What Dostoevsky tries to show is that although Raskolnikov believes he is an “extraordinary” human being and thus commits the murders, he is no better or worse than an ordinary man. He cannot escape the consequence of his crimes, and he is not above the common human. On the one hand, Raskolnikov thinks of himself as a sort of superior human. On the other hand, he realizes as the novel progresses he is just a part of common humanity.