My love toward Dostoyevsky has been often one-way love. I tried to finish reading his books(Crime and Punishment-tried once before, The Brothers Karamazov-finished reading it after trying twice) several times and wasn’t able to finish his books most of the time. This guy is quite talented in torturing readers. Many sentences in his books are not simple as Tolstoy’s. Sometimes, one sentence in his books are equal length with one paragraph. Not only the sentence and the length of the books, he delved into the dirty side of human’s minds that make many readers succumb to it. I would say his writings can be one of the most brutal things in that aspect. Plus, Russian characters have very complicated names for non-Russian speakers that many non-Russian readers would struggle with names and try to deal with this problem by writing names in the note. But if you manage to finish reading his books, it’s like a joyous victory of climbing steep mountains.
‘Crime and Punishment’ is one of the most famous Dostoyevsky’s novels and writing the good review for this book is daunting. But I can give it a try.
Crime and Punishment is the story of a crime and its eventual punishment. That’s it. End of review. Or not. It’s really the story of a crime, followed by more crime, with a sprinkling of just a bit more crime, and then finished off with a tad of punishment. The main character, Rakolnikov(which I always get confused with Raskolni-nov)is a really fascinating character to study. I mean, yeah he’s psychologically warped and is a bit “Oh I murdered someone but you should feel sorry for me anyway”, however I always seem to find likable traits in even the most monstrous of characters. To use a Russian motif, he’s a matryoshka doll of a character. Like I felt with Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary, Raskolnikov is kind of more interesting than the novel itself. I loved this book from the opening scene in which Raskolnikov is convincing himself about the rightness of committing the murder of the money-lending pawn-broker in the name of ubermansch all the way through the bittersweet end and the beginning of his redemption.
“Crime? What crime? … My killing a loathsome, harmful louse, a filthy old moneylender woman who brought no good to anyone, to murder whom would pardon forty sins, who sucked the lifeblood of the poor, and you call that a crime ?”
(ubermansch: the ordinary man has to live in submission and has no right to transgress the law because he is ordinary. On the contrary, the extraordinary men have the right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way.)
Raskolnikoff’s justification for his act was that great and famous men, like Ceasar and Napoleon, were assassins absolved by history. He identified himself with those history figures. And that gave him the right to commit the crime. How could he explain the murder? I understand he just required a belief to explain it to himself. He was no Napoleon; he was not fighting in a war. And he knew it. What he needed was a moral argument that pushed him up the steps and lifted his arms in the final act.
“And you don’t suppose that I went into it headlong like a fool? I went into it like a wise man, and that was just my destruction. And you mustn’t suppose that I didn’t know, for instance, that if I began to question myself whether I had the right to gain power—I certainly hadn’t the right—or that if I asked myself whether a human being is a louse it proved that it wasn’t so for me, though it might be for a man who would go straight to his goal without asking questions.… If I worried myself all those days, wondering whether Napoleon would have done it or not, I felt clearly of course that I wasn’t Napoleon. I had to endure all the agony of that battle of ideas, Sonia, and I longed to throw it off: I wanted to murder without casuistry, to murder for my own sake, for myself alone! I didn’t want to lie about it even to myself. It wasn’t to help my mother I did the murder—that’s nonsense—I didn’t do the murder to gain wealth and power and to become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I simply did it; I did the murder for myself, for myself alone, and whether I became a benefactor to others, or spent my life like a spider, catching men in my web and sucking the life out of men, I couldn’t have cared at that moment.… And it was not the money I wanted, Sonia, when I did it. It was not so much the money I wanted, but something else.… I know it all now.… Understand me! Perhaps I should never have committed a murder again. I wanted to find out something else; it was something else led me on. I wanted to find out then and quickly whether I was a louse like everybody else or a man. Whether I can step over barriers or not, whether I dare stoop to pick up or not, whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right …”
He is one of those with whom the good and the bad come from the same place. His passion, his broad consciousness lead him to both great good and great cruelty. For some reason it just goes both ways. His victims lack the capacity for such a crime, but they also lack the capacity for the good he is capable of. He is a deep, very deep person, but he doesn’t possess the necessary to bear this depth. It is marvelous to possess such a wealth of profundity and passion, but only when you have the means to channel them the right way. Sometimes the best of us is the worst in someone else. There are those of us who lack the necessary substance to bear their gifts with dignity, integrity, passion, and therefore their depth, their brilliance is a murder. They incite them to beliefs and actions that are far beyond our and their own comprehension. Only a healthy spirit can bear the weight of a large intelligence. As Raskolnikov himself points out, ”it takes something more than intelligence to act intelligently”. I keep asking myself why our human complexity results into violence, sadism, cruelty, and not in beauty, nobleness, desire. It is our birthright and obligation to be more than what nature has bestowed on us. Technically, biologically, we are no more than animals, part of the big chain, but inwardly we are something else. Something exceptional, spectacular, breathtaking. We are strong and beautiful in our intricacy, but cruel and weak in our inability to bear it, to recognize it, to give in to it. The beauty of the human heart and mind is always dual, deadly and life-giving, poisonous and healing, grand and small. And it is there that lays the biggest mystery. For it is pain and suffering that the most beautiful creations are based on. It is pain that forces us to grow, to develop, it is pain that reveals to us our most amazing qualities, our deepest beauty, our profoundest selves. It is there that lays the irony, the paradox. Our highest cannot exist without our lowest. I think it is rather notable that after having murdered two women and being incarcerated for it, Raskolnikov is actually more at peace with himself than at the beginning. The pain he goes through changes him. He might have committed his crime only once, but in his mind many times before that. Subconsciously, but still, the thoughts, the feelings that lead to it in the end have been part of him always. And after finally getting to it, he changes.
This is an outstanding classic about the human essence, about our darkest and deepest impulses. The unequivocal voice of each character, the sharp study of society, the movements of Raskolnikov, of the extreme reduction of hate to the redemption of love. Ultimately it reveals that our own inner consciousness can stand a far greater punishment than any legal system can.