Guilt and Greed

Overmastering, distressing, melancholic, and even nihilistic — what’s with the reviews? Do the extraordinary people have the right to murder? Is Raskolnikov an image of Everyman? Wait- what are we even talking about?

By Rithwik Burra
rithwikburra@gmail.com

“Raskolnikov, far from being a madman or psychopathic outcast, is an image of Everyman.”

The novel Crime and Punishment, according to the critic N. N. Strakhov, was the literary sensation of the year, “The only book the addicts of reading talked about. And when they talked about it they generally complained of its overmastering power and of its having such a distressing effect upon readers that those with strong nerves almost grew ill, while those with weak nerves had to put it aside,” he commented. “This is not mockery of the younger generation, neither a reproach nor an accusation — it is a lament over it.”

Cover of Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics) Paperback.
Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)

The story took place in a town called St Petersburg. The protagonist of the novel, Raskolnikov, was an ex-student (he dropped out because he couldn’t manage to support himself). At the beginning of the story he went to a pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, to pawn his silver watch. Little did we know that it was for the rehearsal that he met her. He questioned if she spent all the time alone to plan accordingly. He was disgusted with his thoughts at first and asked himself, “Could I really have contemplated such a monstrous act?

**Note that this isn’t a summary, but merely a quick run-through of the important events of the novel to support my thoughts at the end.**

He wouldn’t have visited drinking dens (for the first time in his life) that day if it wasn’t for the burning thirst and the spinning head. At that drinking den he met Marmeladov. Raskolnikov wasn’t such an outgoing person, but he enjoyed visiting drinking dens as he wanted to escape the environment he was living in. Marmeladov started talking to Raskolnikov about his family’s situation mentioning how poor they are, how his daughter, Sonya, had been forced into sex work to support her family, and how his wife, Katerina Ivanovna, was. He said to Raskolnikov, “Poverty is not a sin, Drunkenness is not a virtue either; but destitution … destitution — that is a sin!” As one’s past has an impression on their future actions, we must remember that Raskolnikov was destitute. He also said, “When I’m destitute, I’m the first to insult myself.

**You might want to take a look at the end for characters mentioned here to avoid confusion with the names.**

When Marmeladov asked Raskolnikov to drop him off at his apartments, he observed his drunken state and agreed to do so. After dropping him off, understanding their financial situation from the conversation with Marmeladov, he left some copper change on the window for his family.

“Raskolnikov is a certain kind of a monomaniac who spends all his time alone, thinking about something.”

He had been waiting for so long to hear from his mother, the person who had once upon taught him how to read and write that he was so overjoyed when he saw a letter from her. In the letter was mentioned how Dunya (Raskolnikov’s sister) was putting up with a lot of rudeness at Svidrigailov’s place where she worked as a governess, how Svidrigailov proposed to Dunya and said that he would give everything up to move to another estate with her, or possibly even abroad, and how Marfa Petrovna (Svidrigailov’s wife) had misunderstood the situation and had humiliated Dunya. It also mentioned Dunya’s engagement with Pyotr Petrovich which irritated Raskolnikov because they didn’t wait for his reply on it.

In the letter, there was a certain note regarding the “latest fashion of unbelief” that caught my attention. It could be what Strakhov mentioned as a lament over the younger generation.

He started to waver in thoughts that his sister sold herself, not for the sake of her own comfort or to save herself from death but, for the sake of her mother and brother, and his mother had agreed to the the marriage of Dunya and Mr. Luzhin because she was ready to sacrifice her daughter for the sake of her son. He was thinking that maybe he was a burden to them. He even hated Mr. Luzhin so much that he was ready to murder him if he met him then.

He then started to think of what he could do to stop this marriage but ended up insulting himself such that he was unable to complete the course and get a job. As we talked before, that one’s past has an impression on his future actions, Marmeladov’s words had started to affect him as he said that he was the first to insult himself when he’s destitute.

He was thinking about all of this while going on a walk after reading the letter. He had then seen a man who tried to manipulate a drunken young girl. Raskolnikov had gotten angry and had informed the cops about him as well as the girl.

There was another lamentation that I observed here — the author tried to convey that the younger generation is getting spoilt when he said, “She’s still just a child” (because she’s drunk and is in a bad state).

Raskolnikov was prepared to do it. After he killed the old lady, Alyona Ivanovna (the pawnbroker), he saw Lizaveta, the half-sister of the old lady, enter the apartment. He was so petrified when he did the second murder that he could have abandoned what he was doing then and there, and given himself up — not because he was scared, but from a mixed feeling of horror and revulsion at what he had done. Later, when he said to himself, “If the game’s up, it’s up, and there’s nothing I can do about it,” it was as if he was ready to face the consequences of what he had done.

The following day when he was called to the bureau, the terror couldn’t get out of his mind so he was ready to surrender as soon as he entered it. But it turned out that he was called because his landlady had filed a complaint against him for not paying the rent. Even then, he was so scared of being tracked down that he was even ready to throw all of it in the canal to get away from it.

Raskolnikov was so self-absorbed that he didn’t even appreciate Razumikhin’s (his friend during his time at the university) presence around him. We understand how annoyed he was of Razumikhin when he says, “You know, Mr Razumikhin, I do believe you’d let a man to beat you up just for the satisfaction of doing him a favour.” We understand this self-absorbed behaviour later when Razumikhin suggests to Pulkheria Raskolnikova (Raskolnikov’s mother) that it would be better if she didn’t ask Raskolnikov any questions, especially regarding his health. It might be because he was fed up with people treating him like a patient.

But later, when he recognized Marmeladov from that accident, he didn’t even look back to spend his money to call a doctor. As he understood the financial situation of the family from the conversation before, he was empathetic enough to say that he’s ready to pay for everything (the medical expenses).

Later, in the conversation with Porfiry Petrovich (the attorney investigating the murders of Alyona and Lizaveta), Raskolnikov explained what his words meant in the article he wrote. “An ‘extraordinary’ person has a right — not an official right, of course, but a private one — to allow his conscience to step across certain obstacles, and then only if the execution of his idea requires it,” he said. “Those of the first category are always the lords of the present, while those of the second category are the lords of the future. The first conserve the world and increase its population; the second move the world and lead it towards a goal. Both the one and the other have a completely equal right to exist.” He continued to answer Porfiry by saying, “A person with a conscience will suffer for his crime. There’s no permission and prohibition in all this. Let him suffer if he’s sorry for his victim. Pain and suffering are inevitable for persons of broad awareness and depth of heart. The truly great are, in my view, always bound to feel a great sense of sadness during their time upon earth.” Keeping in mind his thoughts about crimes and criminal mindsets, one can conclude that he was considering himself as the second type — an extraordinary person. And as a matter of fact, he wasn’t yet sorry for his victim.

Raskolnikov couldn’t get it off his mind. Even when he talked to someone he would act nervous, scared, and complicate things by arguing a lot. He was overthinking a lot and had completely lost his peace of mind in the past few days.

Pyotr Petrovich didn’t like his room companion, Lebezyatnikov, from the very beginning and had been noting Lebezyatnikov’s actions in a negative way that made Luzhin grow his contempt towards Lebezyatnikov. He tried to provoke and pick on Lebezyatnikov as he found it fun. When Lebezyatnikov was trying to explain things to Luzhin, he had interrupted his arguments several times with lustful statements. Even though Lebezyatnikov found them annoying, he couldn’t do much other than ask Mr. Luzhin to stop talking.

As per Pyotr Petrovich’s request, when Lebezyatnikov invited Sonya (Marmeladov’s daughter) over to meet him, Pyotr gave her a ten-rouble note. It is obvious to the reader that Mr. Luzhin wasn’t a man of pride and that he respected everyone. It is clear that he listened when Lebezyatnikov told him, “All that is useful to mankind is noble.”

Not long did the nobility last when Lebezyatnikov along with others had realized his real intentions behind blaming Sonya for stealing his hundred-rouble note while it was him, who slipped the bill into her pocket. Oh, the shame and hate Sonya and Katerina Ivanovna went through for a few moments until Raskolnikov grasped from Lebezyatnikov’s rant that it was him, Pyotr Petrovich, who did it, and the real intentions of his in making them appear as culprits was to demonstrate to his mother and sister, Dunya and Pulkheria Raskolnikova, that he was correct in his suspicions because the previous night when they all met for dinner, Raskolnikov had said that Mr. Luzhin was not worth the little finger of Sonya Semyonovna and that he shouldn’t cast stones at her. From this, it was clear that Pyotr Petrovich was a man of pride and he would reach any extent to get back his wounded self-esteem.

Raskolnikov protected Sonya from humiliation in front of the crowd. She looked up to him as if he was her protection. Later, after he had confessed to her that he was the one, he found that Sonya still loved him. He found pleasure when Sonya said that she’d never leave him, no matter where he went. It was as if he was longing for company. Being alone and feeling lonely are two different things, and Raskolnikov had been lonely for a long time now. “I asked you to come with me yesterday because you’re all I have left,” he said. “I want to ask you not to abandon me. You won’t abandon me, Sonya?” Though it was unclear whether he loved Sonya, one thing that was certainly clear is that he wanted her in his life.

At first, he told her that he might not be willing to do the penal servitude yet because he considered himself as one of the extraordinary people. He said that the reason for him to make such a decision was: “Whoever is strong and powerful in mind and spirit is their lord and master! Whoever takes a lot of liberties is right in their eyes. Whoever is able to spit on most things, they consider their law-giver, and the person who takes the most liberties of all is the one who is most in the right! That’s how it’s been in the past, and that’s how it will always be! Only a blind person could fail to perceive it!” He continued by saying, “That power is only given to those who dare to lower themselves and pick it up. Only one thing matters, one thing: to be able to dare. … I wanted to make the dare, and so I killed someone … to make the dare — that was the only reason for it, Sonya.

Raskolnikov was stressed about the fact that he was the focus of all of Dunya and Pulkheria’s hopes. He dropped out of university because he couldn’t manage himself as he was destitute which, according to Marmeladov, was a sin. Despite all of this, he was responsible for his actions and had called them, “spiteful.” Later, he cleared up all the confusion by admitting that, “I wanted to kill without casuistry, Sonya,” he said, “to kill for my own sake, for no one but myself! I didn’t want to lie about that even to myself! I didn’t kill in order to help my mother — that’s rubbish! I didn’t kill in order to get money and power and thus be able to become a benefactor of mankind. That’s rubbish, too! I simply killed; I killed for my own sake, for no one but myself, and the question of whether I’d become someone’s benefactor or spend all my life like a spider, drawing people into my web and sucking the vital juices from them, was a matter of complete indifference to me at that moment! … And above all, it wasn’t the money I wanted as a result of killing; at least, it wasn’t so much the money as something else…” He said he wanted the answers. He wanted to know if he was a louse, like everyone else, or a man. He wanted to know whether he could take the step across, or whether he couldn’t. He wanted to know whether he could dare to lower himself to pick up what was lying there. He wanted to know whether he was a quivering knave or whether he had a right (to kill).

Raskolnikov, after confessing to Sonya, started to think that she might leave him. He even started to reflect on his life in penal servitude. Soon after Katerina Ivanovna passed away, Svidrigailov wanted to take it upon himself — the cost of the funeral, placing the 3 kids in an orphanage, and endowing each of them with a capital of one and a half thousand roubles, to be paid on their maturity. When Raskolnikov asked the reason for his philanthropy, he tried to drop hints that he had heard about what Raskolnikov had admitted to Sonya as he lives right next to her.

Raskolnikov found Svidrigailov’s words threatening and he even wanted to come to some arrangement with him. He was ready to kill Svidrigailov because he was unsure of his plans and abilities to rat out Raskolnikov. At this point, Raskolnikov was scared of getting caught, while at the same time he still believed that he belonged to the extraordinary people.

He found it self-humiliating when Sonya gestured affection to him after the service (of Katerina Ivanovna) because he didn’t think he deserved love. He wanted her to feel at least the slightest revulsion, or some loathing, or even some slightest tremor in her hand. Eventually, “his conscience had begun to bother him.”

Later when Porfiry had told Raskolnikov, “If he is guilty, he is a real fighter,” it wasn’t coinciding with Raskolnikov’s Napoleonic theory that for a man of genius, the ends justify the means — and goes so far as to end someone’s life.

Svidrigailov had later attempted to rape Dunya by blackmailing (coercing) her (that he’s going to rat out Raskolnikov) but when he realized that he can’t try to persuade her after she rejected him, he shot himself. But before doing so, he gave Sonya some money and his fiancé (a minor) some fifteen thousand silver roubles.

Later when Raskolnikov wanted to confess to people that he was the murderer — as Sonya wanted him to — he was afraid that he would lose the people he loved. He asked his mother if she’d still love him even if people talked to her badly about him. He also said that he loved her more than himself and had started to give her signs that he was in great trouble ahead. His conscience and fear had turned him into a person that wanted a person in their life, from a person who had been self-absorbed and had hated company. When his mother asked if she could do anything for him, he asked her to pray for him. He surely believed in God, but was it because he was scared?

“The darker the night — the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief — the closer is God.”

Raskolnikov even tried to kill himself but was scared to execute it as he found pleasure in still being proud of his deeds. But somewhere in his heart, he questioned whether he deserved all the love he was getting. To answer this question, one must know what makes a person deserve love.

Later in the story when he followed Sonya’s guidance and bowed down to the earth and kissed it in the middle of the road, he found pleasure and happiness. He wanted to shout out loud that he was the one, but couldn’t do it. When he got up after bowing down for the second time, he saw Sonya to his left, hiding away from him. That’s when he realized that Sonya had been following him and that she was now with him forever and would follow him even to the ends of the earth. He wanted to back off without admitting his crime, but he did it anyway for his conscience, for Sonya, and for himself.

“He admitted to his crime and had given complete details of how he did it with firmness, precision, and clarity, without any confusion or making any attempts to soften them in his favour. He made no attempts to defend himself and had stated that the cause for the whole thing had been his rotten social position, his poverty and helplessness, and his desire to secure the first steps of his career with the help of at least three thousand roubles, which he had counted on finding in the home of the murdered woman. Not only did he make no attempt to justify himself — he seemed even to display a wish to incriminate himself further. So the sentence had turned out to be more lenient than might have supposed.”

Raskolnikov had (according to Razumikhin), during the period of his attendance at the university, helped with the last of his resources a certain poor and consumptive colleague of his acquaintance, having more or less kept him alive for six months. Not only that, but following his death he had looked after the old and enfeebled father — now left among the living — of his deceased colleague, had, what was more, found the old man a place in the hospital, and when he too had died had arranged his funeral.

He had also, during a fire, dragged two children to safety from one of the apartments that were already in flames, and had suffered burns as a result (according to Zarnitsyna, the landlady).

A few months later, his mother had died, and eventually, his pride has been violently wounded.

“Finally, in place of dialects life had arrived, and in his consciousness, something of a wholly different nature must now work towards fruition.”

Final thoughts on the hero:

Raskolnikov is a well-written character that depicts the people in society. Yes, we are Raskolnikov. We are him when we donate money to the poor, and we are him when we sin. Of course, what Raskolnikov had done is one of the terrible sins, but we all sin. And most importantly — we do it deliberately. This is what happens when the heart is filled with greed. Greed pushes a man to kill people; while guilt lets the man kill himself. He wasn’t guilty when he committed the crime but eventually, his conscience had begun to open his eyes. When Raskolnikov failed to kill himself that night, he had begun to doubt his extraordinary life. Realization is when you know you need not care about people knowing your darkest secrets once you’re dead, because you’re not alive anymore. Raskolnikov was daring! He killed the old lady, instead of himself even when he was destitute. Doing a bad thing doesn’t make someone bad — Raskolnikov wasn’t bad; he was just confused.

Though Raskolnikov portrays nihilism — as demonstrated in his classification of people into ordinary and extraordinary groups — he has also constantly proved to the reader that he is emphatic. He distances himself from people when he started to think that he’s among the extraordinary group of people while the others belong to the ordinary group. He thought that maybe they can’t understand him. He even hated the presence of his family, Sonya, and Razumikhin around him.

The main point of the novel is to show the reader that the real punishment, when one sins, is the suffering from their own conscience. Even in the book, while the punishment (penal servitude) was hundreds of pages away (in the epilogue) from the murder, Dostoyevsky focused on walking us through the terror, guilt, fear, and the mindset of a criminal through his words. Strakhov wasn’t kidding when he said that the book has a distressing effect on the readers. Dostoyevsky took the readers for a paranoia ride and made us feel guilty for a crime we never committed.

Like we talked about before, Raskolnikov isn’t a bad person. He was just in a helpless situation and he needed some money. No other place in the story did he commit a crime, and in fact, he persistently proved to us that he never intended to commit a crime which he later confirmed when he said that his rotten social position, his poverty, and his helplessness were the reason for his deed. But when he tried to kill himself, he couldn’t. It is because he had got something to lose — Sonya.

By the end of the story, his pride was severely wounded. He realized that he has got people in his life who will love him through everything, no matter what. He breaks the wall in between and starts to love the people around him.

Characters mentioned above:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
The author of Crime and Punishment.

N. N. Strakhov:
A critic.

Raskolnikov (Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov):
The protagonist of the story.

Alyona Ivanovna:
The pawnbroker, old lady, one of the victims of the murder.

Marmeladov:
An alcoholic public official whom Raskolnikov meets at a drinking den.

Dunya (Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova):
Raskolnikov’s sister, an ex-governess at Svidrigailov’s, Razumikhin’s wife (later in the end of the story).

Svidrigailov:
Dunya’s former employer.

Marfa Petrovna:
Svidrigailov’s wife.

Pyotr Petrovich (Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin; aka Mr Luzhin):
Dunya’s ex-fiancé.

Lizaveta (Lizaveta Ivanovna):
Alyona Ivanovna’s half-sister, the other victim of the murder.

Razumikhin (Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin):
Raskolnikov’s friend.

Pulkheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova:
Raskolnikov’s mother.

Porfiry Petrovich:
The attorney investigating the murders of Alyona and Lizaveta.

Lebezyatnikov:
Roommate of Pyotr Petrovich at St Petersburg.

Sonya (Sofya Semyonovna Marmeladov; aka Sonechka):
Marmeladov’s daughter and also the lover of Raskolnikov.

Katerina Ivanovna (Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladov):
Marmeladov’s second wife who’s also consumptive; Sonya’s stepmother.

Zarnitsyna:
Raskolnikov’s landlady.

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self-centered.

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Rithwik Burra

Rithwik Burra

self-centered.

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