“Crime and Punishment” starts with Rodion Raskolnikov, a poor, intelligent student, dropping out of law school for want of funds. Just before he drops out, he writes a paper in which he develops a theory that is both brilliant and appalling. In it, he proposes that the world consists of two types of people— the ordinary and the extraordinary— and according to him, the extraordinary humans are above the law, and have a right to commit a crime if it is necessary to further an important goal. Now, Raskolnikov considers himself as an “extraordinary” man, and so, he decides to test his theory— he decides to eliminate Alena Ivanovna, “a stupid, senseless, worthless spiteful, ailing, horrid old woman”, whose death would mean nothing to no one, but “a hundred thousand good deeds could be done on that old woman’s money”. Raskolnikov goes ahead with his plan and kills her, but after committing the crime, he is tormented by it and his mind falls apart completely: definitely not a sign of “extraordinariness”. Raskolnikov’s disillusionment with his “extraordinariness” pains him more than the crime itself, and he finally goes to the police and surrenders himself. He is tried and sentenced to eight years hard labor in a Siberian prison camp.
Dostoyevsky wrote ‘Crime and Punishment’ as a satire on the “revolutionary” ideas of Nihilism that was spreading quickly among the Russian radicals of the 1800s. In this work, he tried to paint a picture of the consequences of indulging in strange and incomplete ideas alien to Russian thought-system. In a letter to his close friend, he wrote, “(Raskolnikov's) boundless self-confidence must disappear in the face of what is greater than himself, and his self-fabricated justification must humble itself before the higher justice of God”. Dostoyevsky, through his work, wanted to implore the Russian radicals to rediscover their roots and religion, and give up useless ideas that could destroy them and the society.
‘Crime and Punishment’ is written in the third person in a rather tedious manner. Most of the time, the detached-observer-narration is replaced with a narration of Raskolnikov’s intimate thoughts so the reader follows each unfinished thought, each half-baked idea that runs through his head and the narration becomes as disturbed as the protagonist himself.
‘Crime and Punishment’ is a dark, dark read. Insane characters, insane themes. Disturbing, to say the least. I took an inordinately long time to finish it. I’m not sure I liked it, but I can see why it is a classic. I think you can read it once. Just once.
Book Reviewed by Manjushree Hegde
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