Dostoevsky and Freud: Exploring the Relationship Between Psyche and Civilization
Few novels delve as deeply into the twists and turns of the human psyche as Fyodor Dostoevsky?s Crime and Punishment. The novel explicitly describes the protagonist Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov?s fluctuating mental state as he commits a brutal crime, becomes tortured by guilt, and finally turns himself in. This detailed description of Raskolnikov?s psyche gives readers a clear picture of his character within the context of the events that take place in the novel. Yet we know little of Raskolnikov outside of this context. How, for instance, does Raskolnikov come to develop those beliefs and characteristics that impel him to commit his crime? We know only that he embodies these beliefs and characteristics from the outset of the novel. In order to fully comprehend the whys and hows of Raskolnikov as a character, then, we must examine him outside the framework of this novel.
But how, we might ask, are we to move beyond the narrative context in which Raskolnikov exists? The answer is simple: we must place Raskolnikov within a different context and analyze him in light of this new context. How do we know which context to choose? It depends on what we hope to discover by such an analysis. In this case, we want to expand our knowledge of Raskolnikov?s characteristics and psyche. From Dostoevsky?s explicit narration, we already know Raskolnikov is a neurotic character who exhibits a number of neurotic tendencies throughout the novel. We must therefore locate a context that will help us discover the meaning behind these neurotic tendencies. The logical backdrop to choose is a Freudian context, since Freud deals extensively with human psychology and ne...
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...tween civilization and the human psyche?connections which are impossible to completely sever. The presence of these connections make it impossible for us to try to oppose the structure of civilization without ending up in the same plight as Raskolnikov. Thus, both Freud and Dostoevsky seem to suggest that it is necessary for us to adapt ourselves as best we can to the pre-existing constructs of civilization and learn to accept its less pleasant aspects.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Constance Garnett. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1994.
Freud, Sigmund. "Civilizations and Its Discontents." The Freud Reader. Ed. Peter Gay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.
Freud, Sigmund. "Some Character-Types Met with in Psycho-analytic Work." Writings On Art and Literature. Ed. James Strachey. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1997.