The Witness of a Murder in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In “Crime and Punishment” one witnesses a murder as it is graphically described by Fyodor Dostoevsky. How, after such a graphic display of evil, can the reader be compassionate towards Raskolnikov? Superficially, Rodion Raskolnikov appears purely evil, but readers become sympathetic towards his character through in a depth scrutiny of his personality. The full presentation of Raskolnikov’s thoughts reveals his true reasoning behind his crime. Dostoevsky rationalizes Raskolnikov’s actions by bringing the reader into an intimate relationship with his character. The reader sees the many ways Raskolnikov attempts to justify his actions to himself. The terrible illness that Raskolnikov takes on following the murder is another reason to pity him. As readers are finally able to forgive Raskolnikov in their minds, they realize that he was not evil, even good to a point. Raskolnikov tries many times to rationalize the murder, even before he actually commits it. The time and effort he spends attempting to justify his actions seem to make him appear more human. He shows a benevolent side by tossing any money he happens to have at the first needy person he sees. He uses this need to help others as one justification of the murder. By killing one useless woman he can do innumerable good deeds. Raskolnikov heard his own ideas echoed by some youth in the hay market. One said “What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?” The notion of committing a crime for the purpose of good serves to give Raskolnikov a benevolent appearance despite his actions. The fact that the pawn broker was a human did not faze him as he saw her as a pest. In turn, he was killing a “louse” for the purpose of making the world a better place. By killing her he was doing people a favor; he rid the world of a useless old woman. All of these thoughts serve one purpose; they prove that the murder was not committed out of evil will but out of a desire to commit innumerable good deeds. Raskolnikov felt that if one commits a crime without cruel intentions then he is in no way evil. Raskolnikov’s primary excuse and justification for the murder is his theory on the extraordinary man. “Extraordinary people are permitted to cross the boundaries of normal morality.”

Initially he doesn’t realize that this is an underlying motive for his actions. The theory acts as a subconscious rationalization up till the point when Porfiry brings it up. When his writing on extraordinary men is brought into light, Raskolnikov takes it up as another reason to believe his committing murder was not actually a crime. If Raskolnikov is an extraordinary person, which, following his theory he should be, then he is permitted to commit a few breaches in morality. At one point he said he did not kill a human, he killed “a principle” The principle he attempts to kill would deny his own humanity and make him superior to others. He wishes to kill his conscience, but he cannot. Thus he is bound by normal human laws, and due to the ruling of his conscience, an inherently a good person. He did, however, manage to breach a law and thus proved his theory for a short time. Even before Raskolnikov commits the murder he is becoming progressively ill. One might argue that Raskolnikov’s illnesses arise from his guilt and remorse for the crimes, but that doesn’t appear possible. The illness was brought about by the excessive amount of time he spent contemplating the crime. He placed himself under severe mental stress attempting to outsmart the rest of the world. The illness could have many causes. Porfiry said that the main topic of Raskolnikov’s article is that “Perpetuation of a crime is always accompanied by illness” So by simply thinking about a crime all the time one can bring a serious mental and physical illness upon themselves. Raskolnikov dips into insanity shortly after the murder and stays in his apartment in a stupor for days on end. It is suddenly clear that he was not up to the consequences of committing murder, and that he was not well prepared at all for the various circumstances preceding and following the act. Raskolnikov’s inability to cope with the results of his actions makes him seem far from a criminal. Raskolnikov’s definition of crime was evil will in action. Raskolnikov knows that he possesses no evil will, and so he does not consider himself a criminal.

Seeing the intense suffering and anguish Raskolnikov goes through, the reader can not help but sympathize with him. Up until the very end of the book, Raskolnikov is hesitant to actually admit that the murder was a crime and wrong. “(After the crime, Raskolnikov’s) whole soul is changed and he is in constant disharmony with life. This is not remorse in the classic sense of the word. Dostoevsky takes care to show the difference. Raskolnikov will not know remorse with its benevolent and redemptive virtue until he accepts expiation.” Throughout the book one cannot fully accept that Raskolnikov is a good person, but his final resignation of his guilt lets us. In the end, Raskolnikov takes on a truly human aspect by finally coming to terms with his grief. When Raskolnikov finally denounces his theory in his mind and embraces Sonya, and religion, the reader can fully forgive the broken murderer. Through the length of the book, the reader begins to associate himself with Raskolnikov, and thus has an easier time of accepting him as a normal human. Raskolnikov’s rationalizations for his crime are generally selfless and noble. It is commonly accepted that he planned to “expiate his crime by good deeds.”  Most readers can sympathize with his desire to make the world a better place. The torture and illness that befall Raskolnikov are sure to gain the compassion of readers. Outwardly the murder of the pawn broker and her sister cause Raskolnikov to appear cold and evil, but as the readers peek into his life, he begins to take on some somewhat virtuous aspects.

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