Crime and Punishment

Jonathan Pratt

Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is the story of a poor man in czarist Russia who can only purge himself of his guilt through suffering. It deals with the mental and physical tribulation brought upon him by his crime. His troubles are compounded by the conflicting personalities which he possesses. The reader is inclined to characterize him by his cold, intellectual side. Yet, without the contrasting humane side of his nature, Raskolnikov never realizes the errors in his theory and actions. Raskolnikov is defined by the duplistic nature of his personality, with each facet being just as vital as the other.

Raskolnikov's cold side leads him to develop his theory, and thus to commit murder. This side of him bases all decisions on reason and rationalization (although it is sometimes incorrect), rather than on feeling. It is purely stoical, without emotion. The other side of his character is kind and compassionate. Without this side being presented the reader views him as an evil murderer, and not a mislead victim, as Dostoevsky intends.

In the novel Raskolnikov engages in sporadic acts of kindness. He gives money to the Marmeladov family, he attempts to aid Marmeladov when he dies, and he tries to get a drunken girl home and away from her pursuer. All of these deeds were done without premeditation. He simply feels that at the time it is the right thing to do. After a short period of time his outlook dramatically reverses. He starts to rationally analyze what he has done, and then feels that his actions were stupid. This transition marks the return of his cold side, and it occurs after every kind thing that Raskolnikov does.

These shifts between two distinct personalities give Raskolnikov two separate points of view. The novel is founded on the distinctions between the two points of view, and the reader gets both angles. Both Raskolnikov's generous, and evil actions are essential to his character because they allow the reader to identify with these two points of view and the two facets of his personality.