Themes of Nihilism in Crime and Punishment
Nihilism is one of the most difficult philosophies to accurately define because of its ambiguous nature. In its simplest form, one might consider it an extremely pessimistic form of skepticism in which the individual discounts even the idea of existence. Therefore, to a nihilist, all values, relationships, authority, beliefs, and emotions are baseless and empty. First popularized in Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons in 1862, nihilism is associated with a revolutionary movement that occurred in Russia from 1814 to 1876. The principles of nihilism often can be linked with those of utilitarianism, existentialism, and anarchism. Dostoevsky demonstrates his aversion to this philosophy through Raskolnikov’s mental deterioration and eventual return to more traditional values after murdering the pawnbroker (an action that was caused and justified with nihilist principles).
Raskolnikov’s self-imposed isolation represents one of the main principles of nihilism, the idea that nothing truly exists causes relationships of any kind to seem futile and meaningless. Because of this, Raskolnikov avoids human interaction of any kind as much as possible. His exile from the rest of society only serves to perpetuate his nihilistic tendencies, as he is able to distance himself from all other humans mentally as well as physically. This results in his adoption of Nietzsche’s concept of the “superman”, an inherently nihilistic idea that separates humanity into the weak (the majority) and the strong (the minority). Raskolnikov characterizes himself as a superman, above the laws of his society. In this way he is able to justify his murder of Alyona Ivanovna, which gives him confidence in his capacity to commit the crime without error or remorse. He considers himself an intellectual, capable of higher thought processes than the rest of the world, which in turn gives him a boosted ego and a superiority complex.
Raskolnikov is also able to...
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