“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.” Jhumpa Lahiri once famously said. The books—no matter what time and what year—have always something to tell, something to give and the texts are always ready to hold our hand and take us to the journey full of adventures, dreams, reality, pain, love, imagination, lessons, future, past, and many other things one can think of and one cannot think of. In general, the books might get old and worn out but the meaning, the information, and the voice the texts contain will be alive and fresh through the lane of time and the novel Crime and Punishment is no exception. Crime and Punishment depict the human psychology of a murderer and address the legal system. And these topics will never get old and its relevance to society will never fade, making the novel all time valuable text.
Fyodor Dostoevsky (11 November 1821 – 9 February 1881) was one of the greatest novelists, philosophers, and psychologists in world literature. He was born in Moscow, Russia. From his early life, he was exposed to the world of literature through fairy tales and books by Russian and foreign authors, which deepened his interest in literature (History.com Editors 2009). His works are highly impacted and shaped by the events that happened in his life. He was struck by many tragedies in his life, making his life synonyms to suffering: his mother died when he was 15, his father died when he was 17, he was sentenced to death but was pardoned at the last moment, he spent four years in a Siberian prison camp for involving with St. Petersburg’s literary circles that discussed banned books against Tsarist Russia, his brother died, his wife died, and he was facing bankruptcy in many parts of his life (Brintlinger 2016). His most famous and influential works include Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Demons, and Brother Karamazov. The acclaimed novel Crime and Punishment was published in twelve months installments in 1866 in the literary journal The Russian Messenger (Wikipedia). The book after its publication became a hit in Russia and soon spread throughout the world.
Even after 153 years, the book is beloved among the audience and it is more relevant to the world than ever. There is still value in reading the novel as it takes us to the heart of how some of the crimes are committed and what compels a person to cross the boundaries set by society and the law. The novel reflects the debate between Nature and Nurture, supporting the latter one. A poor, ex-student Raskolnikov lives alone in a small attic; he doesn’t interact with many people except his friend, and sometimes his landlady and her daughter. So, most of his lonely time, he spends imagining and creating circumstances to liberate himself from poverty and live a sound life. He makes up his own institution in his mind, caring less for society and what it has to offer or exchange, and embracing the solitude and its consequences. As his thoughts get deeper and his distance from society intense, he begins to treat himself as the representative of those people who are in similar situations as he is in and who is not able to do anything for themselves. Consequently, his focus shifts from individualism to collectivism: he treats himself as the leader of all those people—in Dostoevsky’s words, “extraordinary person”—to deliver justice to the suppressed people either by uplifting their condition or destroying the superior person who is dominating the oppressed. In this situation, no one is there to stop Raskolnikov, assist him, or guide him because he is doing everything on his own and there is less impact from the external environment. At last, his rational thoughts and intellectual ideas begin to appear clearer and more concrete to him, forcing him to kill the pawnbroker. Plus, he overhears two people talking that the pawnbroker was taking unnecessary money from the poor, which further strengthens his willpower and make him feel that he is in the right path indeed. Such ideas from the texts give us insight on a person’s nature and to what extent the external environment impacts the behavior of the person. As we are always in a constant process of knowing a person’s behavior, the reason behind their action, their mental health, such texts can be relevant and beneficial to know in depth a person’s behavior.
Also, the novel successfully shows us how crime isolates people and the other way too—isolation can cause crime. After murdering the pawnbroker, Raskolnikov avoids people as much as he can, even if it’s his mother or sister. The wave of guilty bothers him all the time. He is in a state of confusion about whether to confess or not. And the stream of fear and doubt about whether the police already know he is the murderer is lurking behind him (Martinsen 2016).
Many people after committing a crime cannot withstand the weight of their actions. Haunted by the past and dragging from the pit of salvation, sooner or later, people begin to search for the redemption of their actions and the salvation of their souls. At last, it is the love that wins the heart not the war. Likewise, Raskolnikov confesses his crime to Sonya, a prostitute, his lover, and as he calls her a representative of “all the sufferings of humanity.” Therefore, he is not an “extraordinary person” because he surrendered to the police, failing to avoid punishment for his crime. In the real world, many people blame themselves not because they committed the crime but because they couldn’t get away with the crime. They have their own logic behind their actions, which they think is always right in their eye (Samenow 2018).
Another famous debatable issue Crime and Punishment addresses is whether a first-degree charged person should be given capital punishment or not. Raskolnikov murdered two people but he was sent to Siberia for eight years instead of being executed. The issue of capital punishment raised by the novel is important and relevant today because most of countries still practice the different forms of capital punishment. On the other hand, the remaining countries rebuke the idea and favor life imprisonment instead. The novel gives an opportunity to rethink the punishment that should be given to criminals. It is trying to imply that a person murdered two people because he was having psychological issues; therefore, he should not be given harsh punishments like an execution.
Most of the cases of suicides and other criminal activities in this world are caused by the internal struggle of a person. The worst thing is other people fail to understand or even recognize their sufferings. And the person who is suffering alone had to fight with a split personality ruling inside the person’s body; eventually, they lose the battle and the unwanted action is done. Crime and Punishment prove to be one of the guiding paths for psychologists or laymen to treat and understand patients through the medium of Psychoanalysis. The novel teaches us that the basis to understanding any person’s problem is to understand their feelings, know what is bothering them recently, what fears they are enduring, check on them frequently and not allow them to live alone and be swallowed by the black hole of harmful thoughts (Wilson 2018).
The novel is extraordinarily charged with literary devices, making it a masterpiece in the world of literature. Raskolnikov, the main character of the novel, thinks of himself as an “extraordinary person”, who is above the law and moral norms of society. The novel begins the plot of Raskolnikov murdering the pawnbroker and her sister because he treated himself as an “extraordinary person” and the rest is the aftermath of the novel, where there are settings on whether he can be an extraordinary person or not. Many times, the thought of confessing to the police occurs to him, but he remains composed; however, after he met Sonya, he confesses to her. Therefore, he couldn’t be an extraordinary citizen because in the name of feelings and salvation, he confessed to Sonya and received the punishment for his crime. To make the idea of an extraordinary person clearer to the public, Dostoevsky narrates Raskolnikov’s inner thoughts in the omniscient third person. Otherwise, it would have been difficult to understand the cause and motive behind the action or what people were thinking at the same time. The bowing of Raskolnikov to the feet of God for the salvation for the murder of Lizaveta is an allegory to the Lazarus of the Bible (Gleghorn 2006).
In conclusion, though Crime and Punishment was published 153 years ago, it displays the nature and the behavior of a murderer, his internal struggles, his longing for salvation, and the punishment he receives for the crime, which is relevant today. It helps us to understand the psychology of a person, a murderer especially. Though some readers find the novel disturbing as there is murder, suffering, sex, jealousy, conflict within oneself, and complex; however, that’s the reality of the world and human behavior.