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Crime and Punishment


I encountered the adjective "Dostoevskian" while reading a book, and after hearing about him from a few other sources, I was intrigued. As soon as I got the opportunity, I started reading "Crime and Punishment" to get an idea of what the adjective truly meant.

"We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bathhouse in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes imagine it like that."

Dostoevsky has an ability to relay deep and complex concepts without ever explicitly mentioning them. If I were to take something out of this book, it would be a projection of events that occurred, and not the events themselves. Raskolnikov, the protagonist of the story, is portrayed as a troubled man who is in a dilemma. His mind constantly switches between two states - that of justifying a crime, and that of being disgusted by it. The motivation behind the crime that he commits never becomes clear, despite it being one of the most important subjects in the novel. The uncertainty of his actions is something that gently tilts this novel towards an existentialist theme.

"Mere existence had always been too little for him; he had always wanted more."

Another subject that the novel touches upon is the idea of a superior being, or _├╝bermensch_ (as propounded by Nietzsche). A superior being has the leeway to commit crime without consequence. When Razumikhin (a friend of Raskolnikov), was made aware of an article written by the former upon this subject matter, he grossly disapproved of such notions and so did other people who later came to know of Raskolnikov's actions. Raskolnikov, at times held himself in contempt as well, but at other times, he justified it by drawing parallels to how blood is shed for so many "noble causes", and said that this was no different. Raskolnikov however possessed a compassionate nature as well, which was brought forward when he inadvertently helped people without any ill-intent. For example, he saved a young girl from an old perverted man, he left money for a struggling family, and also set up the relationship between Razumikhin, and his sister Dunia. All this is another example of the duality that the novel possesses, on one hand the protagonist fancies himself as a superior being, and on the other, he is an unwittingly helpful person.

"In what way," he asked himself, "was my theory more stupid than others that have swarmed and clashed from the beginning of the world? You only have to look at the thing entirely independently, broadly, and uninfluenced by commonplace ideas, and my idea will by no means seem so . . . strange. Oh, skeptics and halfpenny philosophers, why do you halt halfway!"

As in other such novels, the protagonist is surrounded by a band of people not quite as distinguished as himself, but quite smart nonetheless. There is such a rich variety of characters that I found it hard to pick a favourite. Pulcheria Alexandrovna, his mother, was a very fitting character, and in fact I could relate her to my mother, or for that, any mother in the world. She always worried about her son and had "a stupid habit of shedding tears." Dunia, was different from her mother and was thoughtful and quite intelligent, she also took up a marriage proposal for the sake of her family's well being (or at least that's what Raskolnikov thought). Razumikhin was the typical side-kick to the intellectual hero, who had not yet developed deep thought, but was smart and knew his way around. Peter Petrovich (Dunia's fiance), was a shallow, conceited man who fancied helping helpless dames, thereby putting them in his debt. His roommate, Lebeziatnikov, on the other hand, was a good man, of modern thought and radical ideas (some of which I liked). And of course, the smartest man of them all, Porfiry Petrovich, the detective who Raskolnikov acknowledged as a challenge, took a very careful path towards trying to apprehend Raskolnikov.

"Every crime for instance, as soon as it actually occurs, at once becomes a thoroughly special case and sometimes a case unlike any that's gone before."

One of the things that I noticed was that while Raskolnikov was alone, he was always surrounded. People liked him or were at least curious about his situation. He on the other hand did not reciprocate such enthusiasm, except for Sonia perhaps.

"And do you know, Sonia, that low ceilings and tiny rooms cramp the soul and the mind?"

But none of this comes close to what "Dostoevskian" truly signifies. There where situations were you felt dark and cramped up. For example, Raskolnikov's room - the way it was described, made me feel a bit uneasy, especially the thought that a person was cooped up in there for such a long period of time. Although I shouldn't divulge into half-baked character introductions any further, I would still like to quickly mention a few situations which were really dark. One of them was when Raskolnikov was listening to Marmeladov's tragic life story. The story itself was horrid enough, but the way it was worded and portrayed, and the surroundings - it was beyond great. Sentences like "whole face were drawn and contorted convulsively" - help give an example of the rich imagery of Dostoevsky.

"But although he had almost always been by himself recently, he had never been able to feel alone."

Katerina Ivanovna's descent into madness was also something I would call "Dostoevskian" and I admit, it sometimes got too absurd and I laughed at things that I shouldn't have laughed at. Svidrigailov's suicide was another thing that I couldn't completely wrap my head around. I understood that his purpose - Dunia, was gone, but his actions were still very absurd, even though they were somewhat justifiable given how weirdly he was fascinated by Raskolnikov and adolescent girls. Svidrigailov's last few passages and the nightmares he had, were also profoundly Dostoevskian.

"Why, who can tell? Perhaps I am really mad, and perhaps everything that happens these days is just my imagination."

Looking forward to reading more of Dostoevsky.