The Harsh Reality: Crime and Punishment

1912 Words8 Pages
A paragon of realist literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky harshly exposes nihilism in his novel, Crime and Punishment, published in 1866. He wields his knowledge of social psychology and pathology to weave the cautionary tale, borrowing liberally from his personal life. Its protagonist, Rodion Raskolnikov, is intelligent yet bitter and unfeeling, embodying the qualities of nihilism, the desertion of one or more meaningful aspects of life. The philosophical doctrine of nihilism is historically ubiquitous, particularly with the Nihilist Movement, one of Imperial Russia’s Great Reforms, and the growing apostasy and atheism of postmodernity; both instances highlight the abandonment of virtue. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex-student living in St. Petersburg, the grimy, plagued, and urbanized capital of the Russian Empire. He is a maverick, “nothing but a poor half-crazed creature, soft in temperament, confused in intellect” (Waliszewski 2). Believing he must deliver society from its mediocrity, he murders a pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna and her unsuspecting half-sister, Lizaveta. Raskolnikov undergoes transformations in all facets of his life, many of which are attributed to his infatuation with Marmeladov’s humble daughter, Sonia, who has been forced into prostitution to support her family. Raskolnikov sees her as a fellow transgressor of morality but also as a savior who will renew him. His love for her causes him to decry his nihilistic lifestyle and expiate, ending his self-imposed alienation. Raskolnikov’s egotism alienates him from society, for he views all others as subordinate. He narrowly avoids confronting his landlady, not out of shame of his unpaid dues, but because “he had become so completely absorbed in himself, and isolat... ... middle of paper ... ...or. 1917. Crime and Punishment. Vol. XVIII. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. Trans. Constance Garnett. Bartleby, 2000. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. "Nihilism." Princeton University Press. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. Pistolero. "A History of Russian Nihilism." Pistols Drawn. WordPress, 7 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. Pratt, Alan. "Nihilism." Iep.utm.edu. Ed. Michael Boylan and Jonathan Matheson. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. Waliszewski, Kazimierz. "Criticisms and Interpretations. II. By Kazimierz Waliszewski. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. 1917. Crime and Punishment. Vol. XVIII. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction." Criticisms and Interpretations. II. By Kazimierz Waliszewski. Dostoevsky, Fyodor. 1917. Crime and Punishment. Vol. XVIII. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. Trans. Constance Garnett. Bartleby, 2000. Web. 25 Feb. 2014. (Waliszewski)
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