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Ethical Transformation Of Self In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment

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Fyodor Dostoevsky was well informed about the newest ideas and the most recent philosophical concepts of his time. Dostoevsky focuses on the human ethics which are much essential for mankind to survive on the planet with peace of mind. Ethics refers to the moral values that preside over a person’s actions. In his novel, Crime and Punishment, his characters are driven by inner emotions that were just being investigated towards the end of life. Sigmund Freud’s exploration of the psychological state of one’s mind were being published only after Dostoevsky penned studies of the mental forces that drive a person to commit certain acts which are against ethical values. As a psychologist, Dostoevsky was well ahead to Sigmund Freud. His descriptions of the inner emotions are psychologically realistic and true. Dostoevsky’s novels anticipated many ideas of Nietzsche and Freud. Nietzsche quotes: “…the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn: he belongs to the happiest windfall of my life, happier even than the discovery of Stendhal” (Bloom vii).

The manner in which the novel deal with Crime and Punishment is not exactly what one actually expects. The crime happens in the beginning and the punishment comes hundreds of pages later in the Epilogue. The real focus of the novel is not on the beginning or the end but on what lies between them, an in-depth exploration of the psyche of the criminal. The inner world of Raskolnikov, with all its doubts, deliria, second-guessing, fear and despair is the heart of the story. He experiences these feelings when he loses the basic ethics of life.

Dostoevsky is not concerned with the actual consequence of the murder but with the way the murder forces Raskolnikov to deal with tormenting guilt. He focuses so little on Raskolnikov’s imprisonment. Dostoevsky suggests that the actual punishment is much less terrible than the stress and anxiety of trying to avoid punishment. Raskolnikov’s psychology is placed in the centre and carefully interwoven with the ideas behind his transgression. Every other feature of the novel illuminates the agonizing dilemma in which Raskolnikov is caught because of his deed.

Raskolnikov’s overhearing of a discussion about killing the pawn broker from a young officer and student, solidifies his resolve to commit the murder. Rasolikov overhears the conversation: “If one were to kill her and take her money, in order with its help to devote oneself to the service of all mankind . . . one life – thousands of lives rescued from corruption and decay. One death to hundred lives – I mean, there’s arithmetic for you (80).

This is crucial to Raskolnikov’s psychology. He is extremely reluctant to kill Alyona before he overhears the conversation and truly desires to kill her after overhearing. He is simply waiting for a sign that he is fated to do so. Again he overhears that Alyona will be alone at home next evening. He senses that situation support his decision to commit the act of murder.

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The protagonist has committed the crime of premeditated murder. Only one murder was actually premeditated, the one committed against Alyona. Lizaveta, her tortured sister faced an unintentional death. Rasolniov is forced to kill her when he fails to shut the door and she enters in.

In the act of committing the crime, Raskolnikov’s character swings between a cold blooded murderer and a bumbling criminal. He has the conscious of mind to clean the axe and his boots, “he kicked off his boots: ‘yes there are marks! The whole toe of the sock is saturated in blood’” (112). But he fails to close the door before murdering the old woman. His reason and will failed him at certain points in the murders. Raskolnikov successfully commits the crime, but his conscience is unable to live with himself. His ethical inner conscience torments him.

Raskolnikov at first justifies his act of killing the pawnbroker. He believes that the woman is less than a human and feels that she has no reason to live. Raskolnikov says: “. . . all I killed was a louse – a loathsome, useless, harmful louse!” (497). He thinks that he is a superior being and has a right to kill her. After carelessly killing both women, Raskolnikov realises that he did not commit a perfect crime. This devastates his ego. So he tries to cling to his self perception. He is plagued with the feeling of guilt. His guilt, combined with mistakes he made during the crime, shatter his self perception of perfection.

The criminal undergoes many struggles and conflict within his inner mind. The thought of his deed even drags him to the edge of madness. Raskolnikov is physically feverish and mentally perplexed in his panic. His horrible confusion after his crime is accompanied by physical illness. He falls in and out of fitful sleep, shivering and faints in the police station at the mention of the crime. This incident makes Ilya Petrovich to pepper him with suspicious questions.

The struggling psyche of Raskolnikov now asks the question, how he can stop the guilt? This is illustrated best in this inner dialogue: he had to put an end to all that, today, right away, once and for all because he did not want to live like that. Put an end to it- but how? By what means put an end to it? About this he had no conception. He did not even want to think of it. He drove away thoughts painfully, thought tracked him down. He only felt, he only knew, one way or another; everything had to be change. (159)

The rest of Crime and Punishment is devoted to the question, how can Raskolnikov change? He is left with nothing but guilt, fear and knawing desire for freedom from his conscience. He yearns for an ethical transformation.

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Ethical Transformation Of Self In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment. (2021, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 27, 2022, from
“Ethical Transformation Of Self In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime And Punishment.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2021,
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