Our read this week may be a daunting undertaking for some… Membership coordinator Andrew on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
“Do you understand, sir, do you understand what it means when you have absolutely nowhere to turn?” Marmeladov’s question came suddenly into his mind “for every man must have somewhere to turn…”
Crime and Punishment is the window into the mind of Raskolnikov, an impoverished former university student who murders elderly pawnbroker Alyona Ivanovna in the belief that it will improve his social status and aid his philosophical enlightenment; an act which instead results in the source of his moral torment.
Raskolnikov manifests all of the complexities of what it is to be human. How lofty should our dreams be? What extremes are we willing to go to in order to achieve them? How do we deal with the consequences of our actions? Indeed, while the central murder of the of the novel is deplorable (as is the unintended slaughter of Alyona’s half-sister Lizaveta), his reasoning behind it stems from a universal desire for self-betterment and contentment – the latter of which Raskolnikov only achieves through his eventual punishment.
The characters that orbit Raskolnikov serve to illuminate the consequences of his murder upon the society in which he navigates, and each have their own complicated narratives – from Sonya, a prostitute who eventually leads to Raskolnikov’s salvation, to the Machiavellian Svidrigailov, whose sole motivation in life is the actualisation of his sensual desires. The depth and range of these characters absorbs the reader into the underbelly of Saint Petersberg life, while emphasising the ripple-effect of Raskolnikov’s actions.
Although we aren’t able to see the fulfilment of Raskolnikov’s ‘gradual renewal, his gradual rebirth’ at the novel’s conclusion, such redemption comes from the realisation that nothing in life comes for free or without consequence. In an ‘alternative facts’ world, Crime and Punishment is an important reminder that we can’t hide such a truth from ourselves for long.