Feodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment is a murder mystery unlike most murder mysteries. In this novel the reader knows "who done it"; the mystery lies in why the murder is committed. Throughout the story, Raskolnikov gives three main reasons why he kills Alena Ivanovna. Although these reasons seem unrelated on a superficial level, there is truth in all of them. What's more, each one builds on its predecessor. Raskolnikov's first two reasons are scrutinized by Sonya one at a time as his solitary motive for murder. These reasons are then disproved on their own, leaving one ultimate motive that essentially encompasses the other two. As readers, we sometimes tend to want a direct explanation for events that have occurred. Dostoevsky gives us explanations, but they are not direct and can be confusing if we are looking for an obvious cause and effect relationship. Crime and Punishment imitates life in that the happenings do not always fit in nice neat categories. Perhaps this is one of the elements that make it such an intriguing and acclaimed novel.
Raskolnikov's first reason for murdering the pawn broker is to help himself. He claims he wanted the money. He states in his confession to Sonya, "It was to rob her" (348). It is obvious that he needed money for school. Also, if he had the money to put himself through school, his mother would not have to scrimp and borrow from others to help her son. Since the death of his father, Raskolnikov's mother and sister are greatly dependent upon him to make something of himself. His mother says in a letter to him, "You are all we have, Dunya and I, you are everything to us, our only hope and trust" (25). In this same letter, his mo...
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... commoners. His last reason was accepted as his ultimate motive; "Sonya understood that this gloomy creed had become his faith and his law" (353).
Raskolnikov himself does not really know why he is committing murder when the murder is taking place. It is a discovery of self and of a theory that was not yet developed. He uses excuses for his reasoning in the beginning, saying that he needs the money, and, later, that he is performing a service for the greater good. These excuses are necessary and fundamental steps of Raskolnikov's journey into self-discovery. It is human nature to rationalize, which is what he is doing. Ironically, this very need for rationalization and excuse is what fails him in his quest for proof of his superiority.
Dostoevsky, Feodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. Jessie Coulson. Ed. Goerge Gibian. New York: Norton, 1989.
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