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Religion as Societal Conformity in Crime and Punishment

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The central theme of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky deals with conformity’s role in society. Dostoyevsky uses conformity to make Raskolnikov mentally ill and eventually turn himself in to face the punishment for his crimes. Religion influences every character in the book, but none more ardently than Raskolnikov. Understanding religion’s role as a force for conformity in Crime and Punishment provides a powerful insight into character motives and, furthermore, philosophical influences.
The first thing to address while discussing the author’s purpose is to examine the motivation of the main character, Raskolnikov. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov becomes an ubermensch, and part of this is that he does not take into account society’s moral values and in turn attempts to use utilitarianism to justify his actions. He thinks that the pawnbroker he plans to kill is harming society, so he thinks he is actually morally obligated to kill her and improve the lives of others in society. He is able to justify his actions, even to the point when he though “what he planned to do was ‘not a crime’” (69). Although the pawnbroker might not have actually been in the wrong, Raskolnikov at the time thought he was performing a service to society. Despite this, he feels guilty and contemplates turning himself in “entirely from horror and disgust for what he had done” (77).
Raskolnikov’s conscience no longer allows him to feel good about killing someone after he actually kills her. After that, Raskolnikov struggles because, as Dostoyevsky puts it, “a crime is always accompanied by illness” (249). Raskolnikov’s guilt consumes him to an extreme amount and “he did not sleep, but lay there in a state of oblivion” (84). This illness is cert...

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...es by some form of punishment. Because his conscience, which is built upon religion, does not agree with the murders, Raskolnikov knew that what he did was not right. This message is the purpose Dostoyevsky introduces Raskolnikov to achieve. However, crime is often taken literally to mean crime with the law, but the crime that really causes conflict is the crime that occurs in Raskolnikov’s conscience. Religion is seen in the most obvious form at the fruition of his punishment. Crime and Punishment shows conformity to society’s laws as a paradigm for redemption, which is taken from a religious context in that Jesus suffered for redemption. Raskolnikov embraces conformity when he turns himself in, accepting religion’s, and therefore society’s, expectations for him.

Works Cited

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. New York: New American Library, 1968. Print.
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