Is Personality Determined by Nature or Nurture?

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Crime and Punishment Essay

Societal Rehabilitation

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's work in Crime and Punishment can be cited as largely autobiographical. Although the author never committed anything like the atrocious murders depicted in the novel, the nihilistic traits of his protagonist, Raskolnikov, closely resemble his own ideals as a youth. In 1947, Dostoyevsky joined the revolutionary Petrashevist cause. The author and this group of radical socialists narrowly escaped death after being arrested by police. They received a pardon from the czar only moments before a firing squad was to take aim. They were sentenced instead to four years in a Siberian labor camp. In his penal servitude Dostoyevsky examined his revolutionary intents and was swayed by the Russian nationalists whom he encountered (McDuff 13). He became aware of the apparent sinfulness of his rebellious socialist efforts. The author embraced God and invested himself in promoting the Russian people's sobernost. Dostoyevsky uses his novel Crime and Punishment to call for this return to traditional Russian values. After the Petrashevists' 1848 revolt, during the rule of Nicholas I, educated Russians became divided in their values (Brown 52). One group advocated a western approach of politics and economics. Another group demanded a return to "old Russia." Their objectives included the re-establishment a czarist regime, a return to simple country life, and the re-institution of a strong church. After years of revolutionary action the new, conservative Dostoyevsky, the Dostoyevsky who wrote Crime and Punishment, endorsed the latter faction. The author of this novel had become a highly reactionary activist who promoted a movement uniting the Russian people in spirit: sobornost. At the heart of Dostoyevsky's novel is his rejection of Western ideas. He reproached many egalitarian ideas that supported democracy and laid the grounds for communism. Dostoyevsky also rejected the scientific method that was popularizing the West and challenging dogmatic practices. He preferred a Russian spiritual approach that did not quantify and "dehumanize" (Smith). Through the characters of his book, the author makes his persuasions known. When Raskolnikov first encounters a drunken Marmeladov, the civil service officer rambles to quote Lebezyatnikov's contemporary ideas: "…the science of our day has actually declared compassion a social evil, and that this notion is already being put into practice in England, where they have no political economy" (Dostoyevsky 45). Raskolnikov also criticizes Western preference for statistics when he speaks of the prostitution trend:

They say that each year a certain percentage has to go off down that road…in order to give others fresh hope and not get in their way. A percentage! Nice little words they use, to be sure: They're so reassuring, so scientific. Just say: ‘percentage' and all your problems are over…(Dostoyevsky 85).

Crime and Punishment's central character, Raskolnikov, is a Western sympathist who has an awakening similar to Dostoyevsky's. Raskolnikov's justification of his crime is the principal example of his radicalism. His theory of the ‘extraordinary being' having a "private [right], to allow his conscience to step across certain…obstacles…if the execution of his idea…requires it" (Dostoyevsky 312) is that of a liberal extremist. In discussing his published article with Porfiry Petrovich, Raskolnikov argues that "human beings in general may be divided into two categories: a lower one (that of the ordinary), that is to say the raw material which serves exclusively to bring into being more like itself, and another group of people who possess a gift or a talent for saying something new" (Dostoyevsky 313). Throughout history, extraordinary people such as Kepler, Newton, Lycurgus, Salon, Mahomet, and Napoleon have instilled their new ideas only by violating the old (Dostoyevsky 313).! Raskolnikov...
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