19th Century Theories in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

Topics: Existentialism, Friedrich Nietzsche, Crime and Punishment Pages: 12 (2498 words) Published: August 12, 2011
19th Century Theories in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment

"I teach you the Superman. Man is something that has to be

surpassed. What have you done to surpass him?" These words said by

Friedrich Nietzsche encompass the theories present in Dostoevsky's

nineteenth century novel, Crime and Punishment. Fyodor Dostoevsky, living

a life of suffering himself, created the character of Raskolnikov with the

preconceptions of his own sorrowful and struggling life. Throughout his

exile in Siberia from 1849-1859, his sentiments of suffering, sorrow, and

the common man surfaced and heightened, inspiring him to begin writing

Crime and Punishment in 1859.

The main motif in this novel is that of suffering. It is apparent

that all characters, major and minor, experience some sort of internal or

external affliction. The overall theme of the work is that all mortal men

suffer, and that salvation can not be obtained unless this anguish is

present. Dostoevsky's protagonist, Raskolnikov, must evolve and realize

this fact to overcome his conflicts and reach the salvation of peace and

tranquillity. Volumes and volumes of critique can be written on where this

suffering originated, but Dostoevsky's main concentration and focus is not

where, but why suffering must exist and how this suffering can be

overcome. This is seen from the fact that throughout the six sections of

the novel, only one section is focused on the origin of the torment - the

Crime, and the remaining five sections are concentrated on Raskolnikov's

path to overcoming this anguish - the Punishment.

By focusing solely on the punishment, the internal and external

conflicts that arise within the novel do not only provide Raskolnikov's

own philosophy of the path toward salvation, but encompasses that of the

German philosopher Nietzsche, as well as his contemporaries. Raskolnikov's

justifications for his actions are relayed in his own Extraordinary Man

Theory, which states that there are two classifications of men in the

world: ordinary, and extraordinary. He wanted prove that he was

extraordinary, that he could commit a crime as horrid as murder, but

because he did it for the betterment of society, he would feel no sympathy

or regret for his justified actions. In following Raskolnikov's theory, it

becomes apparent from where his conceptions originate. Though the whole

work encompasses the philosophies of all the nineteenth century theorists,

Raskolnikov's ideas spawn from that of Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg

Wilhelm Hegel. Since it has already been established that the entire novel

contains theories of its era, to begin an analysis in regard to the

novel's main ideas evolving from the concepts of merely Nietzsche or Hegel

would, in a way, belittle the importance of the remaining non-Hegelian

nineteenth century philosophers. By analyzing the ideologies of the major

theorists from Father to Fruitcake (Kierkegaard to Freud) with respect to

Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky's intentions, motifs, and ideas can be

interpreted with ease. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) believed that truth

is both power and suffering. He is often noted as the Father of

Existentialism, an innovated modern belief that life has no meaning, and

that we must live life just for the sake of living, and nothing else. To

know the truth about life and the individuals living it would be a form of

powerful knowledge incomprehensible to man. The truth is - Life is

suffering. Kierkegaard believed that man was blessed with the greatest

gift of all - free will, but this free will creates decisions, and

decisions generate emotions. Emotions are the key to the suffering of man.

Happiness creates a fear in losing prosperity, fear leads to anger toward

life's unjust ways, anger leads to hatred of life in general, and hatred...
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