Downfall and Salvation in Crime and Punishment

Downfall and Salvation in Crime and Punishment

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In the novel Crime and Punishment, the so-called "extraordinary man" theory plays an important role. Raskolnikov, downtrodden, and psychologically battered, believes himself to be exempt from the laws of ordinary men. It is this creedo that makes him believe he has the right to murder Alyona Ivanovna.

In the nineteenth century, the extraordinary man theory was widely popular. There were two main schools of thought on the subject, the proponents of which were the philosophers Georg Hegel and Freiderich Neitzsche. Both philosophers believed that there were a certain, select, handful of extraordinary people in the world. Both believed that these extraordinary people were above the laws of ordinary men and did not have to submit to their moral code. However, these philosophers disagreed on the motivation of the extraordinary man. Hegel believed that the "superman" could ignore the laws as long as his actions benefited the race of man as a whole. On the other hand, Neitzsche believed that the superman broke the laws in order to benefit himself alone.

In a way, Raskolnikov submits to both theories of the extraordinary man. What is important to understand is why Raskolnikov believes himself to be extraordinary. Firstly, Raskolnikov's perilous financial state and near destitution cause him to be pushed to the edge of sanity. Secondly, the natural arrogance that stems from possessing a great intellect (which Raskolnikov does) causes Raskolnikov to believe that he is above everyone else. In respect to his crime, one can look at it from both the Hegelian and Neitzschean point of view.

For the first five sections of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov takes a Hegelian view of his crime. He convinces himself that he killed Alyona Ivanovna because she was a bloodsucking leach on the body of the poor. Raskolnikov believes he is doing mankind a service by removing the dishonest and unfair pawnbroker. It is not until part six that Raskolnikov admits to himself that his ultimate motive was Neitzschean. He finally admits to Sonia that he killed Alyona just to see if he could do it. He wanted to know whether he was a "Napoleon," able to commit an evil act and walk away with no remorse. In short, Raskolnikov killed Alyona not because she was dishonest and he needed money, he killed her simply to benefit his ego.

In some ways, the extraordinary man theory also applies to Svidrigailov and Luzhin.

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As one can clearly see, Svidrigailov is an example of Neitzsche's superman. Far from caring about anyone else, Svidrigailov does things because they make him feel good. Arkady is an example of a man devoid of reason and logic and given completely over to passion. Responsible for the deaths of both Martha Petrovna and a servant, Svidrigailov commits any act that improves his situation, legal or illegal. He is sick of the servant, so he causes him to commit suicide, he wants to be free of Martha so he can pursue Dunia, so he poisons her. These are the acts of a man who is entirely self-serving.

Also, there is Peter Petrovich Luzhin. Like Raskolnikov, Luzhin is an example of both theories of the extraordinary man. Going against the norm, Luzhin attempts to marry Dunia, a poor destitute girl who greatly contrasts Luzhin's wealth. He aims to be her benefactor and rescue her from poverty, a Hegelian idea. However, we also see that Luzhin ultimately wants to use his charity as a harness over Dunia. Luzhin ultimately wants to serve himself by causing Dunia to devote herself completely and utterly to him. Quite obviously, the extraordinary man theory is a central theme in Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky spotlights the superman's failure due to his over-inflated ego and his ultimate redemption when he finds love and religion. Crime and Punishment is both a touching tale of downfall and salvation and a masterful disproof of Neitzche's doctrine.

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