The novel “Crime and Punishment” is a literary masterpiece by Fyodor Dostoevsky. First published in 1866, this novel explores crime, murder, the attendant punishment, and the realization of guilt.
Noteworthy, this piece details the actions of a resident of St. Petersburg, Raskolnikov Rodion Romanovich. He is a proud, handsome, and intelligent man who contemplates the commission of a crime. Subsequently, he kills an aged pawnbroker and her sister. He then tries to justify his actions by placing himself on a higher pedestal than the rest of humanity (Spark Notes)
However, he is traumatized by his actions as he goes through a series of guilt episodes. Although he tries to justify the acts by further stating a utilitarian perspective to his acts, he remains unconvinced. Subsequently, his friends and family realize his actions and try to help him. However, due to his pride, he fails to take their help. (Spark Notes)
He later confesses his crime and is then sentenced to prison. He serves his time while still alienated and proud. However, along the line, he accepts his love for Sonya, whom he had earlier confessed his crime to. He then also expresses self-reproach for the murder. (Spark Notes)
A theme connotes the primary and general idea, point of view, and belief that an author presents to its readers. These ideas represent the subject of the writing around which an author develops and establishes his plot. Usually, they are often universal and fundamental ideas that a novelist, poet, or dramatist explores. (Themes in Crime and Punishment)
Noteworthy, themes represent an integral part of every literary piece, and Crime and Punishment is no exception. In this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky presents a plethora of ideas that are examined below.
This represents the most significant theme in the novel Crime and Punishment. The principal character, Raskolnikov, views himself as far superior to the rest of society, thanks to his pride. As such, he believes it is impossible for him to effectively relate to other members of the society as displayed during his time at the law school. (Spark Notes)
In the same vein, he considers people as mere tools to be utilized for his gains. This idea is further explored as he commits two murders to explore his thoughts about committing a crime. Worse, the future commission of this crime drives a wider wedge between him and the society as he grows isolated due to his guilt.
Noteworthy, throughout the novel, Raskolnikov consistently refuses help from those who care about him. He refuses Sonya, Razumikhin, Porfiry, Dunya, and Alexandrovna. In turn, this alienation brings untold hardship to him. However, Fyodor Dostoevsky ends this novel with a flourish as Raskolnikov eventually accepts Sonya’s love depicting a reassociation with society. (Spark Notes)
This is another significant idea that runs through this novel. Closely associated with the idea of alienation, Raskolnikov views himself as an extraordinary person. In the same vein, he considers himself as possessing a distinct ethical framework compared to the rest of humanity. (Spark Notes)
For instance, he murders the pawnbroker based on the belief that he stands tall beyond the law and then attempts to establish his belief as to the truth. However, he soon realizes that he is just human as he begins to drown in the guilt of his crime. Even at that, he still fights against a total disintegration of his supposed superhuman identity as he tries to justify the murder with a publication. (Spark Notes)
However, once again, he is brought fully to the ground as he surrenders in love with Sonya. With this, the status is humanity is explicitly highlighted.
In this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky also pays attention to the psychology of crime and, consequently, punishment. Naturally, the idea of crime and punishment is considered entwined.
However, this novel travels beyond this widespread scope and examines the conflict that exists between the point of a crime’s commission and its punishment. Precisely, this novel attempts an exploration and in-depth examination of the mental process of criminal minds. (Spark Notes)
This novel brings to fore the guilt, fear, despair, doubts, second-guessing, and deliria that plagues a criminal. It suggests that this guilt and torment is usually a worse punishment than the actual punishment. For instance, Raskolnikov experience health and mental setbacks after killing the pawnbroker and her sister. (Spark Notes)
The concept of Nihilism is a philosophical ideology traceable to the 1850s that depicts nothingness. It also involves a total rejection of aesthetic, emotional, and humanitarian bonds. In turn, it focuses on practical grounds as the basis of actions. (Spark Notes)
In this work, Fyodor Dostoevsky presents Raskolnikov as a nihilist who kills not to attain greatness or high status. Instead, he commits the act in a bid to remove a “louse” from society. In the same vein, for most of the novel, Raskolnikov fails to reflect people’s emotional attachment. (Literary Devices)
However, again, following his acceptance of Sonya’s love, he abandons this ideology. Precisely, through this novel, Fyodor Dostoevsky examines Nihilism and condemns it as empty.
Another thematic preoccupation of this novel is morality, as reflected in Raskolnikov’s earlier resolve. He convinces himself that his actions are moral as he is beyond the moral standards of man. Even more, he resolves that his acts make him a great man rather than an immoral one. Through this, Fyodor Dostoevsky reflects the possibility to misconstrue morality. (Themes in Crime and Punishment)
Later on, the morality of crime is further explored through the ensuing guilt that clouds Raskolnikov. Fyodor Dostoevsky depicts a change in feelings as Raskolnikov takes cognizant of his crime and eventually displays remorse. Again, through this, this novel establishes the universality of absolute moral principles. (Themes in Crime and Punishment)
This exposition on the topic “Crime and Punishment: Main Theme” has explored a summary of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 literary masterpiece. It then discussed the prominent themes inherent in the novel. These themes include the theme of alienation, the psychology of crime, superman complex, morality, and Nihilism, among others.
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