Crime and Punishment, Fathers and Sons, We Essay

Crime and Punishment, Fathers and Sons, We Essay

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     Brilliance surely comes with a price. Often a protagonist is, in his own right, an absolute genius, but for this gift of vision, he must remain isolated for eternity. Crime and Punishment (1886), by Fyodor Dostoevsky, depicts a poverty stricken young man who discovers a revolutionary theory of the mind of a criminal. Despite his psychological insight, Raskolnikov is alienated from society, and eventually forced to test his theory upon himself. Ivan Turgenev’s Bazarov, in Fathers and Sons (1862), pioneers the anarchistic philosophy of nihilism, depending entirely on science and reason, but ends up falling passionately in love and then cast out, through death, from the rigidity of thought he held so dear. D-503, the main character of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), discovers an immense and rigid counterculture and drowns himself in it, only to surface without anyone with whom to relate. Each author suggests the irony of a prophetic mind being wasted and outcast among ordinary men.
     Raskolnikov, a former student, forced to drop out of the university because he is unable to afford the tuition, is forced to work part-time with his friend Razumihin as a translator. Through this endeavor, Raskolnikov, or Rodya as his mother calls him, becomes well versed in the literature and existentialist philosophies of the time. Writing to a local newspaper, Rodya ventures to propose a superman theory similar to that of Nietzsche, made popular around the time Dostoevsky wrote the novel. “I only believe in my leading idea that men are in general divided by a law of nature into two categories, inferior (ordinary)… and men who have the gift or the talent to utter a new word.” This principle, that man is simply either ordinary or extraordinary, limited by rules and boundaries or allowed to transgress these barriers en route to his planned greater goal for humanity, gains Raskolnikov little profit or renown. Though the extraordinary man theory could easily be applied to Napoleon, as is done in Rodya’s thesis, few of Dostoevsky’s characters accept its revolutionary psychological approach to criminal behavior. Only the lead detective, Porfiry Petrovich, comes to accept Raskolnikov’s approach. This parallel epiphany is ironic, indeed, because throughout the novel, Rodya and Porfiry are cast as foils. Even this revelation, though...


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...ian author, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, and Zamyatin, alienates true visionaries from their natural place at the head of society and implies a theme of the perils of idealism. Raskolnikov discovers a rationale for committing crimes in the name of a greater good, only to also discover the theory’s incredibly difficult guidelines of extraordinary men through self-experimentation. Bazarov’s nihilism and rationality is entirely contradicted by his adoption of romanticism in some circumstances, and the impossibility of nihilism is shown through his ignorance of this contradiction. D-503 awakens within himself a long-absent human nature with unlimited creative potential, only to realize its dangerous, anarchistic possibilities. Each protagonist comes across a revolutionary idea, only to eventually be dismissed, and ultimately forgotten, by society.



Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (New York, NY: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1981) 243.
Dostoevsky 63.
Dostoevsky 387.
Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996) 18.
Turgenev 138.
Turgenev 148.
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We (New York, NY: Avon Books, Inc., 1972) 56.
Zamyatin 177.
Zamyatin 231.

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