Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov and the Problem of Free Will

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Dostovesky's Raskolnikov and The Problem of Free Will

If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin croucheth at the door: and unto thee shall be its desire, but do thou rule over it. Genesis 4:7 American Standard Version If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. Genesis 4:7 King James Version Everyone seeks the truth. All are bound by an innate curiosity of the world and that which lies beyond. But even more so, the questions that concern our own nature are those that most captivate us. The questions of reality and illusion, freedom and fate have fascinated us throughout history and will continue to do so for years to come. The passages above show two translations of the same verse; it is the tale of Cain and Abel. God speaks to Cain after the infamous murder and explains his punishment. Note that the American Standard Version uses the words "do thou" where the King James Version uses "thou shalt." In the first translation, God commands Cain to rule over sin. In the second translation, however, God promises Cain that he will surely triumph over sin. To resolve this discrepancy, one must look back to the Hebrew text. The original word on which the translations were based was timshel-"you may." God says that sin will come to your door, and that you may rule over it. It could be the most influential word in history, because if "you may"-it's also possible that "you may not." It is neither a command nor a promise, but rather a choice. God gives all men and women the choice to rule over sin. The point? In a secular light, even the oldest accounts of human history agree that man has unhindered free will; in a religious light, God guarantees us this freedom of choice. Either way, the abundance of free will should lead us to a brighter future. So, we should be fine and dandy, right? Not quite. There is still one pest that prevents a peaceful, rosy future. It is "fate." Never were more deceived than by the lie of "fate." In Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky exposes fate as several things: a deception, a crutch, an excuse, a scapegoat, a deceiver, a manipulator, and even a destroyer. Doom-saying aside, Dostoevsky's fundamental statement on the nature of reality argues that all people have the freedom to choose their own destinies, and that "fate" is merely a collective illusion created by the human need for excuses and blame. Dostoevsky describes Crime and Punishment as the story of "a young man," at the whims of "the strange, 'unfinished' ideas that float in the atmosphere," (ix). Dostoevsky trains the spotlight unflinchingly on the Russian youth. He wraps every scene around Raskolnikov, somehow incorporating Raskolnikov in the vast majority of the forty-one chapters in the book. In doing so, Dostoevsky encircles every theme around and ties every symbolic connection to Raskolnikov. Through Raskolnikov, the purest and best-developed statements of Dostoevsky's purpose can be found. By examining his unique mental state and the complex foundations of Raskolnikov's mental condition, it is clear that fate is merely an illusion. Raskolnikov is a torn man, schismatic by nature: "Raskol'nik" is Russian for "divided." When compared to level-headed companions like Razumihin or Zossimov, Raskolnikov divides the world into two distinct groups: the intellectual and the emotional; the rational and the abstract. His sides are easily distinguishable early on. For example, when he gives money freely to a wandering girl in danger, we read: "in an instant a complete revulsion of feeling came over him," (48). The revulsion is no doubt symbolic of the internal struggle for control between rationalizing and compassionate. It is important to note, however, that this struggle is not gradual; on the contrary, it is both violent and abrupt. In his first drink-induced dream, Raskolnikov even...
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