Crime and Punishment


"Raskolnikov, Why?d you do it?"
The character Raskolnikov in the novel Crime and Punishment is among one of the most realistic and believable characters I have ever read about. He is also the most confusing and distraught man I have been introduced to this entire year. Raskolnikov possesses the most varying personality imaginable and this makes the reasoning behind his actions a mystery, especially in the case of the murder. Determining the rationale in killing the old pawnbroker is a complex process that necessitates deep thought from the reader. It is also a difficult point to argue because Dostoevsky?s novel is so intensely detailed that different readers can emphasize different aspects of the book in order to attempt to explain Raskolnikov?s deeds.
Guilt as well as intellectual reasoning prove to be the main motivating factors behind the crime of Raskolnikov. Throughout the novel his actions are usually a result of his striking intelligence or his tormenting conscience, or in the situation of the murder, both. Raskolnikov?s idea to kill the old pawnbroker stems from a theory he was developing. It was probable that during his studies at the university he was aquatinted with the popular philosophies of two German thinkers of the time.
One of these philosophers is George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who had formulated a conception of an exceptional individual he called a "superman". Hegel?s superman exists for good purposes. He stands above and beyond the ordinary man and works for the good of all men. The most controversial part of this superman theory that Raskolnikov obviously adopts is the Machiavellian belief that the end justifies the mean. This means that anything that could have a beneficial outcome for many should be considered regardless of the sacrifice of the few. If the intent is noble the method will be justified. According to Hegel, any damaging part of a community should be removed, and one tiny crime will be wiped clean by the good deeds that occur because of it.
Another prevalent German theorist was Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche who had a differing opinion of the superman. His idea was that the superman does not live for benefit of society, but instead for his own personal satisfaction. Nobility never prompts any of his aims. Nietzsche was a devout atheist who believed that either no God exists or that He was dead, so his superman is a man who, without fear of God, exerts his own desires completely. He has the strongest will and is able to force his power over others simply to gratify himself or assert dominance. The Nietzschean superman does not need consolation from anyone and is able to live totally alone. The wishes of others should never affect the powerful will of the superman.
When Raskolnikov was developing his own superman theory he borrowed elements from both Nietzsche and Hegel, then applied them to his situation in order his own vague hypothesis. To Raskolnikov, all men fall into two categories, the ordinary and the extraordinary. Ordinary men are inferior to the extraordinary, and they live in submission. They have no authority to break any laws and they live only to reproduce more of their own kind.
On the other hand, the extraordinary man is bound by no rules. He lives by no laws just because he is extraordinary. Raskolnikov thinks that being great relies on breaking from the common mold of society. This includes breaking the laws made by and for the ordinary people. He feels that when one complies to public law he ceases to be a great man. Since the achievements of the superman will eventually benefit all of mankind he has the fundamental right to decide whether to abide to laws or not. He has the position to overstep any obstacle that stands in the way of fulfilling his potential. He feels that extraordinary men that act in this fashion drive civilization forward to new levels of accomplishment.
In this fashion Raskolnikov justifies his crime. The Alyona is an evil old pawnbroker who hurts people who come to her for pawning, therefore he reasons that murdering her would eliminating a harmful member of society. Alyona also has loads of valuables that would otherwise be wasted if he did not take it upon himself to distribute them to the needy. Raskolnikov permits violence in the name of conscience.
However, it is not