The genius of Fyodor Dostoevsky is internationally acclaimed by literary critics of all generations. “Crime and Punishment” is considered as the most significant part of his legacy. For years, this psychological and philosophical novel has been analyzed from cover to cover by thousands of critics, professors, and students. This “Crime and Punishment” essay is dedicated to the theme of alienation from the society which is one of the central ideas of the novel. In the first place, this idea is revealed through the main character Rodion Raskolnikov. He is a poor and miserable student who lives in Saint Petersburg. His ideas are quite radical. Raskolnikov divides all people into two categories: ordinary and extraordinary. His attempts of self-identification according to his own theory are the central conflict of the novel.
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Through Which Characters and How Is the Theme of Alienation From Society Revealed in Crime and Punishment?
The famous expression of John Donne that no man is an island is both the universal truth and the way the human psycho organized, for it is impossible to live in the society and remain unaffected by it. It is vital to find the balance between the requirements the society has formed in respect of individuals and the personal comfort. Each person is an element that facilitates efficient functioning of the social environment, while it, in its turn, provides particular benefits to its members, that is why establishing a harmonious relationship between the individual, and the society is crucial. However, it appears a somewhat challenging task so that alienation from the society tend to develop and bring a range of destructive psychological disorders. As a result, familiar to anyone feeling of estrangement and loneliness leads to the complete isolation and hinders adequate perception of reality.
In the novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the theme of alienation from the society is one of the central ideas. At most, it is revealed through the protagonist of the story Rodion who seems ready to challenge the settled order of interrelationship between the person and the society. Raskolnikov is an intelligent young man who finds himself in the protest mood. His rejecting attitude towards the surrounding people is spectacularly exemplified in his theory of social hierarchy. According to Raskolnikov, all people fall into two categories. The first one comprises the ordinary people, who allegedly bring no better contribution but serving and obey the second category. Raskolnikov considers the majority of people average, while only a selected few are acknowledged extraordinary. The last type is the minority of the society that possesses the inalienable right to control the ordinary ones and enjoys special privileges because they are “people with new ideas, people with the faintest capacity for saying something new” (Dostoyevsky, n.d., p. 471). As for himself, Raskolnikov genuinely wants to cultivate traits that would mark him down as an extraordinary one, yet he questions whether he fits own description. In view of the specific provisions of his theory that trench upon the lives and freedoms of other people and more to the point qualify such approach as acceptable and right, the deep reprobation of the society Raskolnikov lives in comes into the open.
In its essence, the Raskolnikov theory is close to the fascist world-perspective with the only difference of putting the nation factor aside. As for the rest, the concept of superiority of one group of people over another on the basis of some contentious inherent characteristics remains the same. The Nazis claimed that the new order they bring to people would purify the world from the unworthy and useless people that are “poisonous” for the benefit of the selected few:
Poison can be overcome only by a counter-poison, and only the supine bourgeois mind could think that the Kingdom of Heaven can be attained by a compromise. The broad masses of a nation are not made up of professors and diplomats. Since these masses have only a poor acquaintance with abstract ideas, their reactions lie more in the domain of the feelings, where the roots of their positive as well as their negative attitudes are implanted. They are susceptible only to a manifestation of strength… (Hitler, n.d., pp. 280-281).
At this point, it is obvious that the Raskolnikov theory is aligned with the standpoint of the leader and the most influential proponent of the Nazi movement. Similarly to Hitler, the same words apply to Raskolnikov, for he regards the idea as paramount importance of existence but not the human life and the actual public weal: “you sanction bloodshed in the name of conscience” (Dostoyevsky, n.d., p. 472). However, the sources of intolerance appear different in these two cases. In relation to the Nazi, it is a systematic brainwashing by means of propaganda imposed on the people by the fanatic leader. The aspiration for the national revival acquired adverse manifestations such as the concept of “Untermensch,” blind hatred, and excessive cruelty aimed at all people out of favor. However, Raskolnikov’s resentment develops on personal grounds.
The antipathy that Raskolnikov feels towards the people traces back to the lack of understanding from them. Being a bright young man with promising perspectives, he appears lonely in that special way all original and sensible people tend to. In view of the lack of the moral orienting point that Raskolnikov could look up to and derive inspiration, his pride and complex perception of the world take over his sanity. Having neither the actual understanding of the nature of the murder nor the psychological anchor that would hold him back from trespassing the point of no return, Raskolnikov comes up with his theory of extraordinary people and puts it into action.
In relation to the mentioned above, the concept of exceptionalism applied to a specific category of people stands for the attempt to establish a common understanding with the surrounding world. According to Braun and Langman, alienation has the lack of fulfillment as its the most distinctive trait. In the social context, when an individual does not receive enough satisfaction from the act of communication, the feeling of aloofness arises. In addition, resentment and tensions between members of the collective take place (Braun and Langman, 2012, pp.6-7). It is the particular case of Raskolnikov who shows low communication pleasure:
He was very poor, and there was a sort of haughty pride and reserve about him, as though he were keeping something to himself. He seemed to some of his comrades to look down upon them all as children, as though he were superior in development, knowledge and convictions, as though their beliefs and interests were beneath him (Dostoyevsky, n.d., p. 102).
Thus, Raskolnikov opposes himself to the society instead of questioning his “default mode setting” (Tucker, 2016, pp. 61-64) that is utterly egocentric and defines people around his as “inferior” beings. Raskolnikov perceives the world from the perspective of self-absorption, that is the root of his belief in own exclusiveness. However, Raskolnikov does not reject the society entirely but rather draws a line and defines people whom he theoretically, most likely, would accept. People who, he believed, could understand him and offer an equal contribution to communication at noetic level. Thus, distinguishing a specific category of people in Raskolnikov’s case denotes his need for socialization and his selective manner at the same time.
Though Raskolnikov is undeniably smart, his inability to adopt a new angle on his loneliness indicates personal immaturity. It is an inherent human trait to be ignorant of other people’s motives and feelings while concentrating on own inward world. This duality tends to tear sensible people apart while they cannot reconcile inner storm of different feeling or prevailing moods with the actual world where their lives unfold. Thus, a person is present in two different worlds simultaneously, and sometimes the borderline becomes completely blurred. Raskolnikov sublimated his sense of loneliness with the rejection of people, for they did not correspond his lofty standards. However, real matureness implies finding different ways to accommodate and adjust personal mood (FitzMaurice, 2012, p.13) when it comes to such inescapable aspects of life as lack of understanding or boredom. Moreover, mature people usually formulate their problems in a way other than “Whether I can step over barriers or not, whether I dare stoop to pick up or not, whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right…” (Dostoyevsky, n.d., p. 741). This way of thinking displays apparent complication with self-identification that is most common for immature people.
In the light of all mentioned above, Raskolnikov is the character who reveals the theme of alienation from the society in the novel Crime and Punishment. The novel mostly focuses on the development of the character from the stage of complete aloofness until he realizes falsity in own judgment and seeks atonement for the outcomes of his erroneous vision of people. In case of Raskolnikov, love facilitated his change through the reappraisal of values, for when one falls in love, the focus of attention automatically moves to the love object. Through his sufferings, the idea of self-centeredness being a delusive lens of world perception that provokes the loss of connection with reality and disturbed state of mind is realized. Raskolnikov is the iconic image in the world literature representing the continuous moral struggle and the sore path of soul-searching.
Braun, J. and Langman, L. (2012). Alienation and the Carnivalization of Society. Routledge, pp.6-7.
Dostoyevsky, F. (n.d.). Crime and Punishment. [ebook] Planet PDF. Available at: http://www.planetpublish.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Crime_and_Punishment_T.pdf. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.
FitzMaurice, K. (2012). The Secret of Maturity. 3rd ed. FitzMaurice Publishers, p.13.
Hitler, A. (n.d.). Mein Kampf. [ebook] The Heritage of the Great War, pp.280-281. Available at: http://www.greatwar.nl/books/meinkampf/meinkampf.pdf. Accessed 10 Jan. 2018.
Tucker, S. (2016). Pride and Humility: A New Interdisciplinary Analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp.61-64.