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Crime And Punishment 4 Essay, Research Paper

In Dostoevsky’s novels pain and some heavy burden of the inevitability of

human suffering and helplessness form Russia. And he depicts it not with

white gloves on, nor through the blisters of the peasant, but through people

who are close to him and his realities: city people who either have faith,

or secular humanists who are so remote from reality that even when they love

humanity they despise humans because of their own inability to achieve or to

create paradise on earth. His novels The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and

Punishment are best examples of the poisonous effect of such ideals on the

common human. The rebellion of these humanists against the system and the

reality of human life becomes more important, thus love becomes the filter

and the servant of pride and ideals. The cause of XIX c. liberals becomes

more important to them than the actual human being that might not fit the

picture of their perfect and humane society. Through these problems and

opposites which cross and overlap each other, Dostoevsky depicts social

issues, especially the problem of murder, through an image of people who go

through pain. He presents a graphical experience of ones who do not know how

to deal with humanity and its problems. Dostoevsky himself does not give a

clear solution nor does he leave one with the certainty of faith for an

example. He says himself:

Finding myself lost in the solution of these questions, I decide

to bypass them with no solution at all. (From the Author. The

Brothers Karamazov)

Through the presentation of crime and the issue of money which is often

connected to it, Dostoevsky retells a Bible story. His answer to the problem

of evil and human life filled with suffering, at least the most persuading

one, for a better society and better social conditions is active love. That

is not the love that is directed towards the humanity as a whole, but

towards the individual: “Strive to love your neighbor actively and

indefatigably” (II, 4). For Dostoevsky such love is a false one and he

presents it through such characters as Rakitin, Perkhotin and even Luzhin:

Consciousness of life is superior to life, knowledge of the laws

of happiness is superior to happiness–that is what we must fight

against. (The Dream of a Ridiculous Man , p. 382)

One of greatest evils for Dostoevsky are the so-called liberals who “love

humanity more than an individual man.” Yet he does not represent their

behavior as genuinely evil . Their hate towards humanity arises exactly from

the opposite: love. Secular humanists see so much evil, crime and

inhumanity, they cannot stop it so they rebel. Ivan Karamazov and his

rebellion are purely of that kind. He is not vile, he just cannot understand

that there might be a solution for such suffering, especially in the case of

children who are innocent in Christianity. That is why Ivan asks:

Love life more than the meaning of it? (II, 3)

Ivan as any average intellectual, wants to know. To know the meaning of life

for him is more important than to actually do something about the human

suffering. Ivan forgets that one human life is as important as the entire

humanity. For him humanity is merely an abstraction which happen to be

surrounding him. He thinks that by knowing and logically, rationally finally

understanding the mystery of life problems would be solved. For Alyosha, the

only answer is love for life, regardless of the meaning and the logic behind

it. To help people and try to forgive them if they do wrong or help them if

they need help is all that Alyosha wants. Faith in God and people is the

only way to live with love. To believe in God and to have trust in human

nature and destiny means to forgive and to repent. It means not hurting

others. Ivan gets trapped by the power of his own intellect and his own

pride: the pride that pulses in humans who want to know more. Ivan

contradicts himself with his rebellion. On one side, everything is

permitted, because there is no God (Ivan is an atheist), on the other the

rule of despotic Inquisitors who claim that there is God, but “know” the

truth: that there is no God. Ivan desires rebellion against the Father and

his father, the proclamation of a man-god, but in the same time Ivan looks

at people like himself as fathers to the masses. Raskolnikov does the same.

He separates people on ordinary and extraordinary. His superman is permitted

everything :

I simply intimate that the “extraordinary” man has the right… I

don’t mean a formal, official right, but he has the right in

himself, to permit his conscience to overstep…(Crime and

Punishment. III, 5)

Ivan praises the idea of God, “which entered the head of such a savage,

vicious beast as man” (Brothers Karamazov, V, 4). So he also thinks most of

people unworthy. How can a man that despises humanity love it at the same

time? If humans are like that than who has a right to be a Superman or the

Inquisitor. Yes, it is true that there are bad humans, but one cannot go and

hate all of human race for the fault of some. Without love the salvation and

better society are impossible. Sonya and her sacrifice for others and her

forgiveness are the best example. She has God because she knows that she is

as big of a sinner and no better than others, and she still loves people,

she does not want to be better for the purpose of egotistical pride.

In Russia at the time the Church was second place and the values of Western

European liberal thought were sweeping through. What Dostoevsky saw was that

none of those ideas actually improved the status of the masses. Thus, the

answer has to lie somewhere else rather than in the assertion of humanists

and rationalists that men are gods. What Raskolnikov does is exactly that:

he gives himself the license to transgress and to decide to be a god. He

rebels against society and its norms. Raskolnikov hates Luzhin and

Svidrigaylov, but by killing the old lady and Lizaveta on his way to his own

purpose he turns into people as evil as the ones he despises most. Once he

crosses the line he does not know where to stop. Geoffrey Kabat writes:

On another, symbolic level, the murder is an attempt to annihilate

a symbol of the oppressive forces of a society in which money

gives one power over other people’s lives and in which lack of

money means dependence on others. (V, 124)

The problem of money and its oppressive and evil character is an important

issue in Dostoevsky’s novels. Raskolnikov is originally troubled because of

his financial problems, Sonya is a prostitute to provide for her family,

Mitya wants to kill his father for money. Judas betrays Jesus for money.

This theme is repeated in Dostoevsky, but there is always something more: in

the end the money (as in the case of Rodion or Mitya) is of lesser

importance than the actual rebellion against the society and the attempt to

change the social conditions which are almost unbearable. They both consider

committing suicide, but do not do it because they are lucky enough to meet

and to follow a Christ figure. Christ would have forgiven Judas, but Judas

did not ask for forgiveness. He felt guilt, but the feeling of guilt is a

necessity if one knows of guilt and possesses fear. To know the guilt is not

enough: to repent is crucial. Grushenka and Sonya forgive because they have

to forgive, but in the first place they know that the guilty have to forgive

themselves and take the path of repentance. Otherwise, rationality at its

best turns a man into a tyrant, on a smaller scale than the Inquisitor, but

still a tyrant. This ego and child rebellion (against every father possible)

of Rodion kill Alyona and Lizaveta and that is why he hurts his mother and

sister. Joseph Frank writes:

By this time, Raskolnikov has begun to understand how easily a prideful

egoism can begin with love and turn into hate. ( Dostoevsky: The Years of

Ordeal 1850-1859.I, 7)

The alternative to the behavior of Svidrigaylov and Raskolnikov in the Crime

and Punishment is Sonya or Sofia. Her name implies that Dostoevsky even

through this wants to show how foolish the Greco-Roman foundation for the

Western thought is. The only person that possesses the ultimate wisdom and

the key to happiness is Sonya. The woman of Russia who believes and takes an

the role of the mother for her sisters and brothers as well as for Rodion

.She loves actively–with her body she sacrifices herself for her family.

Sofia is the one with the answer:

Go at once, this instant, stand at the cross-roads, first bow down

and kiss the earth you have desecrated, then bow to the whole

world, to the four corners of the earth, and say aloud to all the

world: “I have done murder.” (V, 4)

Raskolnikov will not go because for him authority is another representation

of amorality, no better than himself. They do not care about his soul or his

remorse. They want to find the murderer and punish him. The point that

follows out of is that no judicial system is enough to make one truly feel

sorry. The issue of punishment is not what matters. Surely Sonya does not

want Raskolnikov to turn himself in because she hates him or because she

thinks that he is a vile and evil creature. She wants to save him and she

knows that the first path to the savior is the admittance of one’s own sin,

and desire already exists. Sonya knows that Rodion will not be saved if he

is merely sent to Siberia. She follows him with the offer and the example of

her Christian love, fulfilling her words and actively loving, hoping that

his transgression will not push him away from the world back into his own

interior world in which nobody else has a place. Opposite to Sonya is what

“humanists” do, what the “extraordinary” men do. Their idea becomes more

than the actual humanity, more than the actual substance of that idea. The

inevitability of human suffering becomes obvious if one is searching for an

answer. Thus just like Raskolnikov and Ivan rejection of such society and

life comes, which leads to the “cold and inhumanely callous to the point of

inhumanity” (Crime and Punishment, V, 2).

In order to defeat evil one has to start with the assumption that there is

goodness . To rebel violently because of a child’s death only brings greater

evil. Ivan does not love others nor does he love himself. He does not accept

the most important of all, and what is crucial to Sonya and Alyosha:

forgiveness. He cannot forgive himself, for he is accusing himself of

Fyodor’s death, and he goes mad. The Grand Inquisitor and Ivan come very

close together in their hate towards humanity. They hold the opinion that

Christ made a mistake when he sacrificed for the human race. What they do

not understand is that Christ, with his kiss, again and again dies and

sacrifices himself. Christ does not lose faith in humans and in the

possibility of goodness, even though there is evil. He forgives. Sonya

forgives, she expresses wisdom with her actions. In The Brothers Karamazov ,

and Crime and Punishment , active love is the highest value and the only

remedy to all of humanity’s problems! Sonya’s hand movements, Zosima’s bow,

Christ’s kiss are a definite and the ultimate answer that Dostoevsky has to

offer to the people. Father Zosima makes this idea very clear:

If you are penitent you love. And if you love you are a God. All

things are atoned for, all things are saved by love. If I, a

sinner, even as you are, am tender with you and have pity on you,

how much more will God. Love is such a priceless treasure that you

can redeem the whole world by it, and expiate not only your own

sins but the sins of others. (Brothers Karamazov. II, 4)

From the story “Akulka’s Husband ,” in which there is everything but regret

on the side of the killer, faith in God is the only path to sanity.

Dostoevsky was a young man when he heard these stories. How could he live

otherwise, if he really actively loved people, but take the belief in God as

a necessity? The belief that the idea of God should be there because

otherwise everything would be allowed is Ivan’s perspective. His claim that

society should be based on the Christian dogma, and that crime should not be

only against the state, but also against Christ, is exactly the opposite of

what to believe and to really love Christ means. Christ did not set out to

punish the transgressors, but he gave them all the love that he could give:

forgiveness and love:

Remember particularly that you cannot be a judge of anyone. For no

one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such

a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is

morethan all man to blame for that crime. (Brothers Karamazov. VI,


For Ivan, eternal justice does not exist, and he also does not believe that

there are guilty. But after that he accuses people of being evil and he does

not forgive them. So he needs a lie to cover the fact of the human

mortality. The only problem is that God is not a lie, at least not for

Dostoevsky. Ivan would establish the rule of the Inquisitor: he would

establish a system that uses Christ for its own survival. To actively love

means to believe and not to calculate or believe only nine hours a day or

when it is helpful to one’s survival

Through the act of rebellion against the social norms and the Christian

dogma secular liberals, or humanists, forget about fellow human beings as

being fallible as much in thought as in action. In those moments, great

defenders of liberal thought and love for humanity forget that they might

not have the definite answer, thus they fall into the same trap as their

predecessors who thought that they knew what is the best for people and

enforced their ideas. They all become Grand Inquisitors and “living gods.”

They all want to spare humans from the burden of their own selves, “for only

we, we who guard the mystery, shall be unhappy.” They preach lies instead of

the truth, thus they develop a different kind of love: tyrannical love. The

Christian love has to be free. This is where the social issue of murder, as

in the case of Akulka’s husband comes in. He obviously does not feel remorse

because he owes something to the government or the system, or to his wife:

Forgive me, I’ll wash your feet now and drink the water too.” (Akulka’s


He feels no remorse for the murder and the maltreatment of the woman. The

authority did send him to prison, but what he feels is nothing else but the

feeling of being punished. There is no remorse and seems that there is no

forgiveness. Maybe that is why Dostoevsky does not dwell on his imprisonment

too much. He does not want his own punishment to turn into pride: then

society does not gain anything from the punishment of the one who

transgressed, but plain assertion of its own power. This lapurlative

ideology, system for the sake of itself, does not bring the solution. There

has to be remorse and real acknowledgment and confession. Not confession for

the sake of mere forgiveness, nor that same sentence, “I cannot forgive

myself. ” For Dostoevsky, that is merely an excuse for pride and self-pity.

People find refuge in their theories or in other external factors, such as

being deprived from something by birth, forgetting that the quality of life

is one’s own choice, “don’t do to others. ” In a secular society every class

feels responsible only to its own “natural” or rather accidental


The convict is almost always disposed to feel himself justified in

crimes against authority, so much so that no question about it

ever arises for him. Nevertheless, in practice he is aware that

the authorities take a very different view of his crime and that

therefore he must be punished, and then they are quits. (Ideology

and Imagination. IV, 147)

Dostoevsky’s solution lies in exactly the opposite from the class struggle

and the solution that it brings. All of those strives bring only shifts and

turns but are still based on hate and not on love. When one thinks of God it

is not in terms of class one belongs to, or sex or age. One either accepts

the Word or one does not, one either believes that even the sparrow has its

place in God’s mercy or one goes around raving against God, simultaneously

talking of his necessity. Dostoevsky shows such attitude, such part time

rationalizing as worthless and very often dangerous: suicides and murders.

He truly despises it and mercilessly attacks those sins with all his

strength and his ambiguous words. Zosima’s gives an account of what being

without Christ can do:

They, following science, want to base justice on reason alone, but

not with Christ, as before, and they have already proclaimed that

there is no crime, that there is no sin. And that’s consistent,

for if you have no God what is the meaning of crime? ( Brothers

Karamazov. VI, 3)

This is the danger of Raskolnikov and Ivan’s logic. The society around them

and around Dostoevsky is one which makes children suffer and turns young,

beautiful and wise creatures, like Sonya, into prostitutes. What is the

answer? Is one answer possible to it at all? Can one go on living with the

thought of how much suffering there is ? Does one rebel against the society,

then try to establish a new one, forgetting that society does not come to be

of itself, but is built by human beings: beings imperfect and ready to hurt

and rebel against their fathers, against the idea of “old,” or the society

of the past and present. If that is taken into account the only people who

do make sense out of human existence, which is best showed and expressed

through suffering, are people such as Ilyushka and Sonya. Their argument is

much stronger. They are better for the cause of the improvement of social

issues than the actual orators for the masses. Why? They offer the solution

for peace in one’s soul. They offer it with faith in God, not the rational

path of the Western thinker or with the denial of a Russian nihilist, but

with a leap of faith that charms one against actual, brutal, world. The

tyrants, the intellectuals, the Ivans cannot be prevented, but faith can

defeat them, over and over again. The bow and the kiss have to exist.

Children die, children suffer, society is unjust, people kill for stupid

reasons and base, vile feelings. In a world that is hopelessly destined to

go on like that, faith, God, are the best answers to our despair.

Intellectualism obviously does not bring much advantage or peace–faith and

love do. With God one’s pride can be defeated, one’s responsibility

recognized, one’s active love awakened, one’s soul saved:

By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor

actively and indefatigably. Insofar as you advance in love you

will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of

your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love

of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no

doubt can possibly enter your soul. (Brothers Karamazov. II, 4))

Ivan recognizes that same necessity and usefulness of God. However, he does

not really believe in God, thus he cannot forgive, he cannot forgive

himself, and most importantly he does not believe in the immortality of the

soul and in justice. He does not love. Without a belief in the existence of

justice crime has no meaning. His idea of God is worthless because he is an

atheist, he does not believe. The only way out is not through the lie, with

which the Church for centuries managed its affairs, but through true and

honest belief that things have a purpose and that it does matter to be good

and not to hurt others. One cannot solve society’s problems unless one truly

believes that what is done has a purpose. That is not the way because when

one starts looking at humanity as a whole one will not find many good things

and one will never have any happiness. Only by looking at the individual can

one acquire a moment of happiness and exaltation of the soul, such as

Alyosha’s experiences in the field. Faith is not rational path, but it

equips one with love. Only by having certain values and love for others can

the family as the basic unit of the society survive. Family Karamazov is

certainly a vicious example of what the society may come to if society does

not hold values which produce love: we are all responsible for each other

and we have to forgive each other.

To improve the society and social conditions and to free people from evil on

Earth is impossible. The belief that there is immortality of the soul and

that there is God who takes care of humans is necessary. Dostoevsky goes

further than Voltaire. He believes that you have to have true faith in order

to attain happiness and to create the ground for better life. Intellectual

discussion and the acknowledgment of the necessity for the God as an idea or

a Prime Mover becomes worthless the moment it is meant as a lie. It has to

be the Truth, there has to be faith. If one lives a lie his bitterness that

the dream and the ideal are impossible will only lead to madness, hate, and

ultimately suicide or murder. One has to give active love.

So the ultimate answer to the suffering and the injustice in the world is

love. What higher feeling and more positive there is in human existence?

Again there is no rational way to explain and to really lead one on that

path of faith. The possibility of such belief is real because humans are

able to love. That means that they must be able to suffer for others, they

also must be able to forgive. “Love all men, love everything” are Zosima’s

words. Dostoevsky cannot go further than that.

Works Cited :

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Years of Ordeal 1850-1859.

Princeton University Press. NJ, 1983.

Frank, Joseph. Dostoevsky: The Miraculous Years 1865-1871.

Princeton University Press. NJ, 1983.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Stories. Tr. Andrei Goncharov.

Progress Publisher Moscow. USSR, 1971.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. A Writer’s Diary. Tr. Kenneth Lantz.

Northwestern University Press. IL, 1993.

Kabat, Geoffrey. Ideology and Imagination.

Columbia University Press. NY, 1978.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Tr. Constance Garnett.

W-W-Norton & Company. New York-London, 1976.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. The Devils. Tr. David Magarsshack.

Penguin Books. London, 1953.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Tr. The Coulson.

W-W-Norton & Company. New York-London, 1989.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor. Notes from Underground. White Nights. The Dream of a

Ridiculous Dream and selections from The House of the Dead. Tr. Andrew R.

MacAndrew. A Signet Classic. NY, 1961.

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