The Power of Repentance
Crime and Punishment, the classic Russian novel of guilt and repentance, explores crime in both a psychological and social sense. Through the deterioration of a murderer’s mind and through the lives of both criminals and non-criminals, author Fyodor Dostoevsky relates a worldview born from radical nihilism and his experience in a Siberian labor camp. Dostoevsky argues that “crime” is not civil but instead moral disobedience. His prison experience provides a unique perspective on the torment of guilt and the need for atonement that serves as the backbone of the novel. Through the struggles and convictions of his characters, Dostoevsky emphasizes the reality of morality, the possibility of redemption, and the necessity of repentance. Throughout the novel, Luzhin develops into a distasteful character whom readers learn to hate; he acts immorally and does things which are not acceptable in society, yet are not illegal. Dostoevsky uses Luzhin to show how crime is a breach of moral convictions, not the breaking of a legal law. Luzhin’s only intentions for marrying Dounia are to have her as a trophy wife—to be in a relationship where he is completely dominant over her. Furthermore, Luzhin rudely and unsuccessfully accuses Sonia of stealing his money, another indication of his twisted sense of morality. Though these actions are viewed as being immoral, they are not illegal. Dostoevsky uses Luzhin in the story to reinforce the idea that crime is the breach of moral standards, not the breaking of written law.
Svidrigailov’s actions also frequently conflict with moral law. His story is the tragedy, the tale void of a happy ending. Svidrigailov’s cynicism leads him to find no truth in human laws or moral standards. He believes that the only way to find happiness in the world is to follow his own desires, regardless of how they impact others. The rape leading to the eventual suicide of a 15-year-old girl breaks both civil and moral law. It is...
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