Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a dramatic story about a poor man by the name of Raskolnikov and the conflicting journey he undergoes. The story is about his aims at ameliorating himself through theory and murder. However, it is not as cut and dry as the prior statement may make it seem. In fact, this morally ambivalent story uses Raskolnikov’s subconscious struggle, the effect of love on other characters, and Raskolnikov’s redemption to exemplify Dostoevsky’s idea of man’s need for emotional stability. Raskolnikov chooses an isolated life where he may not be bothered.
He secludes himself from his family and friend Razumihin. He lives in a “garret… under the roof of a high, five-storied house”, which is considered more of a “cupboard than a room” (Dostoevsky 1). In this building, lives his landlady and her servant, Nastasya. He is in serious debt to his landlady and as a result often does not eat for extended periods of time. However, this is not uncommon in Petersburg. Dostoevsky captures this fashion “peculiar to it the imperial bureaucracy exerted itself to westernize the country from above while the turbulent and seditious ‘proletariat of undergraduates’…
Strove to effect the same end from below” (Rahv 106). It is in this pressured city that we see the utter poverty in bars, the streets, and even hotels. It is this “special Petersburg stench” that is so appealing to Raskolnikov (Dostoevsky 2). He sees a place where he may hide from his problems and not have to rely on others caring for him. While he believes that he can escape in solitude, he is abruptly shaken of this misconception when he receives word from his mother.
Raskolnikov has deep compassion for his family, but his pride drives a wedge between his feelings for them and his ability to xpress said feelings. He knows that his sister Dounia is sacrificing herself for him in order to get money. This angers him exceptionally and he is furious that she could be so naive and foolish with her acceptance of such a selfish man’s proposal. His care for them is so extreme, that he thought to himself that he would have “murdered Luzhin” if he had seen him on the street so that he could save them (Dostoevsky 43). However, this is the extent of his love for his family. He proceeds to reject them after their arrival to Petersburg and again after his committing of the murder.
He is very cold towards them and continues to alienate himself from them. He feels like he is unworthy of their love since he has sinned and they still support him, unknowing of what he has done. He treats his friend Razumihin even worse than his family. Razumihin is a man who is a better self of Raskolnikov. He is a tutor, loves his family, and does everything he can to help Raskolnikov in his time of need. Raskolnikov responds to this with short and brutal retorts. He shows no mercy on his friend and does his best to push him away, which has little effect on Razumihin.
He does his very best to be cold towards those who care for him and wishes to be left alone with his thoughts. Although Raskolnikov puts on a hostile front, he cannot suppress his subconscious need to help others. He has brief moments of sincerity throughout the novel. He sets aside his logical and mathematical approach to the world in order to help those who he feels pity for. For example, he “tries to save the drunk girl from a would-be seducer or when he gives the Marmeladovs almost all of his money”(Teaching 127).
Although he regrets doing so after, it is only due to his pride condemning him for being so illogical in his efforts to try and save them. This inner love not only manifests itself in his actions, but also his dreams. He dreams of an old mare that is whipped mercilessly by its master as he pushes it to move forward with a heavy load. Mikolka “swung his shaft” down on the mare after the whippings didn’t suffice (Dostoevsky 60). Raskolnikov is all the while begging him to stop and shows deep compassion for the mare. This subconscious message shows his love and empathetic side fighting to be free from his methodical and calculating side.
He is showing the basic need to love others and by doing so hates himself for being unable to suppress it. He does not feel worthy to love and therefore feels unworthy of love. Raskolnikov actively denies all love towards him up until he gets what he truly wants, punishment for his crime. It is his pursuit of this love that is the most interesting. It is not only a love of its own, but it has parallels with Svidrigailov and his pursuit for Dounia. Svidrigailov is a despicable man who is a child predator, murderer, and the man who started rumors about Dounia chasing after him.
He comes to Petersburg with aims to gain Dounia’s love. He pursues what he cannot have since he cannot experience such a feeling. Dounia represents to him what he can never have and it drives him to thinking he loves her. The guilt of his crimes have come back to haunt him and are evident in his dreams and visions of those he has killed. In fact, he dreams of the girl he pushed to suicide and a five year old girl whose face turns into a “French harlot” (Dostoevsky 504). This shows that he has realized his obsession has gone too far and is eventually what drives him to suicide.
However, it is in his absence of love that truly sets the gears in motion. He had been experiencing visits from his ex wife and servant before, but it is after he learns that Dounia will never love him that reality sets in. He had nowhere to turn and no one to love him or anyone for him to love. He no longer had access to this necessity in life and chose to die than live another minute without it. Raskolnikov on the other hand is able to find love with Sonia, Marmeladov’s daughter. She is a firm believer in Christianity and ironically is a prostitute.
She was forced into prostitution to provide for her family since her father was a drunkard who spent all their family’s money. She is what saves Raskolnikov from the same fate as Svidrigailov. While Svid got rejection towards his love, Raskolnikov got a warm and religious welcome. Sonia wishes to save Raskolnikov and believes in his ability to be redeemed. She did not fear him upon learning about the murder, but rather comforted him and acknowledged that “There is no one in the world now so unhappy” (Dostoevsky 407). She can not help but fall in love with him and Raskolnikov is saved by this.
Svid has no one to support him and care for him, while Raskolnikov has Sonia by his side. She was there for him during his trial, during his prison sentence, and even when he was sick in prison. She was there for him and provided him with the necessity he needs for life, love. It is in the Epilogue that we truly see Raskolnikov’s redemption. He finally acknowledges that his theory is flawed. He believed that there were two types of men, extraordinary and ordinary men. It was the obligation of the ordinary man to stay in his lane and continue on with his way of life. However, there was an elite class of men that are extraordinary.
These men could break laws and move history forward without fear of consequences. Raskolnikov thought that if he could prove to himself that he was extraordinary, that he could solve his problems. He believed in his theory wholeheartedly but subconsciously knew it was wrong. He knows that he could never become extraordinary, but it is his pride that blinds him from this fact. It is not until he dreams of a plague entering society and making all men believe they are extraordinary that he sees the fault in his theory. He then tosses his methodical side aside and embraces his compassionate and loving side.
He demonstrates his new found love and epiphany when he sees Sonia. He bows to her and makes his deep love known by telling her that he “loved her beyond everything” (Dostoevsky 541). He has filled himself with love and can now truly experience life. Although his living conditions are similar to that of his old life, he now has something to keep him going. In fact, he sees how “life had stepped into the place of theory” (Dostoevsky 542). He has finally accepted his fault and tossed his pride aside, leaving a clear path for himself to accept and give love.
This is where he finds happiness and is what motivates him to push through the few years he has left in prison. Dostoevsky portrays Raskolnikov as a broken man who has nowhere left to turn. In Raskolnikov’s mind, he needs to be extraordinary, but it is Dostoevsky who shows that he just needs a basic necessity, love. It is in his portrayal of the characters, the moral struggle of Raskolnikov, and the idea of redeeming those who are lost that shows his true view on love. While Dostoevsky takes on many morally challenging and profound topics in his book, he clearly shows one thing; love is indispensable.