Dostoyevsky’s Use of Religious Elements in Crime and Punishment
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterwork, Crime and Punishment, tells the story of Raskolnikov Romanovich. Raskolnikov is known as one of the most complex characters in literary history due to his intellectual depth and psychological and spiritual struggle. Dostoyevsky’s personal beliefs are reflected in Crime and Punishment, and his use of Christian symbolism and character representation establishes an overall theme of religion which is emphasized by Raskolnikov’s battle between good and evil.
In Russia during the 1860s, the period of Romanticism came to an end. Romanticism was overtaken by the wave of Realism. Russian realists emerged and began addressing serious social issues. Among these realists was Dostoyevsky, proudly making a name for himself as a writer and effectively building a reputation as a social thinker. Written and published in 1866, Crime and Punishment was the epitome of Dostoyevsky’s writing ability and style. Dostoyevsky became well-known for creating characters with relentless inner conflict and spiritual struggles, and Raskolnikov was no exception. Not only would Dostoyevsky’s characters encounter spiritual turmoil, but they would often seek and find redemption (Crone, World Book).
Some of Dostoyevsky’s critics agree that his religious vision is always part of the meaning of his work. Often if the work is taken literally, one may find Dostoyevsky’s description of characters, setting, or plot unclear. However, if viewed at a deeper level, one can see his underlying religious meaning. Critic Carol Apollonio states: “The lurid facts of Dostoevsky’s fallen fictional world, characters in despair, squalid settings, violent crimes— distract our attention, but the message of hope and faith inheres there, awaiting a receptive reader” (35). Crime and Punishment is filled with distasteful distractions; for example, when Marmeladov gives his passionate sermon, he is drunk and in a tavern. The setting and behavior of the drunkard may seem like the focus of the scene; however, the deeper spiritual meaning is instead emphasized by the paradox. Like Marmeladov, Svidrigailov also has a bad reputation. He is known to be cold hearted, creepy, and evil, yet he is also generously charitable. Again, the sharp contrast accentuates the hidden message. Apollonio states that, “If these paradoxes are to make sense, they must be seen in the context of the interaction of these different elements with one another in the artistic text as a whole” (25). Dostoyevsky uses the contrasting elements throughout the novel to strengthen the underlying message that corruption can be defeated by faith.
Dostoyevsky’s own beliefs are reflected in Crime and Punishment, not only throughout the plot, but also through the characters. In a letter to his wife, he states his “creed”: “I believe that there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, more rational, more manly, more perfect than the Saviour… If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” The clearly stated love he had for Christ should cause one to see the underlying religious elements in Crime and Punishment. Every incident of charity or sacrificial behavior in the novel can be linked to Dostoyevsky’s personal belief in Christ and his teachings, and how charitable actions can be done by even the most corrupt of individuals. Just like Raskolnikov and several other characters in the novel, Dostoyevsky struggled with his faith. In the same letter to his wife he stated: “How dreadfully has it tormented me (and torments me even now) this longing for faith, which is all the stronger for the proofs I have against it.” One can see the personal torment of Dostoyevsky reflected in the character of Raskolnikov.
Raskolnikov is a character with a split personality. Throughout the novel, he is tormented by the battle...
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