The Criticism Of Socialism In The Novel Crime And Punishment
The novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was known as an advocate for the impoverished in Russian society, however he had strong criticisms to socialism and its implications. Socialism is defined as a “political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole” (Oxford Dictionary). The novel highlights the turmoil of the social exclusion of 19th century Russia’s lower class, and seems to critique the utopian vision of fixing Russian society so that everyone would be on equal footing. Dostoevsky frames his arguments throughout much of the novel through one character, Raskolnikv, in order to illustrate the reality of what it actually means to take a life rather than from the abstraction about the ethics of trading one life for the betterment of society. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky critiques socialist St. Petersburg in his portrayal of Roskolnikov’s crime and eventual atonement.
Dostoevsky does not seem to agree with the idea that actions taken in pursuit of a better society are necessarily good. He sees in this seemingly innocent theory a potential justification for violence. One of Raskolnikov’s arguments for committing murder was that by killing Alyona he is benefiting others in society. He contends, “Crime? What crime?…That I killed a vile, pernicious louse, a little old money-lending crone who was of no use to anyone, to kill whom is worth forty sins forgiven, who sucked the life-sap from the poor – is that a crime?” (Dostoevsky 518). Dostoevsky is illustrating that despite what Rasknolnkov believed, no one in poverty benefited from the murder of the Ivanovna sisters. Dostoevsky is criticizing the utilitarian idea that Raskolnikov is doing humanity the most good by committing one simple crime. He displays this as he shows Raskolnikov grappling back and forth with his true motives for committing the murders, as Raskolnikov at one point admits, “It was not to help my mother that I killed – nonsense! I did not kill so that, having obtained means and power, I could become a benefactor of mankind. Nonsense! I simply killed – killed for myself, for myself alone – and whether I would become anyone’s benefactor, or spend my life like a spider..should at that moment have made no difference to me” (Dostoevsky 419). Dostoevsky is pointing out that Raskolnikov’s act of violence makes no difference on the societal structure of Russia at the time, and that this utilitarian mindset is not the solution to fixing the operations of the government and class systems.
Aside from Raskolnikov, several other of the characters seem preoccupied with their social class and status, notably Katerina Marmeladov. She embodies the lower class’s jealousy of the elite’s material and extravagant lifestyle. Katerina was born into a wealthy family and fell into a life of poverty, but seems to continue to desire to prove her original noble social status. Following her husband’s death, she spends an enormous amount on the funeral reception, which could have been spent towards rent or food that her family desperately needs. Katerina wished “to show all these ‘worthless and nasty tenants’ not only that she ‘knew how to live and how to entertain’ but that she had even been brought up for an altogether different lot, that she had been brought up ‘in a noble, one might even say aristocratic, colonel’s house’ and was not at all prepared for sweeping the floor herself and washing the children’s rags at night” (Dostoevsky 378). Despite her family’s obvious poverty, she has a strong desire to show that she is still of a high social rank and status. Dostoevsky demonstrates the twisted preoccupation with class throughout the extravagant funeral feast scene, as Amalia demands that Katerina and her family vacate their apartment because they are unable to pay rent. He displays that it is impossible to fix or alter class structures by simple willpower, but rather they are ingrained in the existing structure of society.
Another one of Dostoevsky’s major critiques of socialism begins with its atheism. He believed that the spiritual nature of human beings must be addressed, while socialism tends to concern itself with man’s material needs. He argues this point while illustrating that Raskolnikov can only become truly redeemed through the help of God. When Raskolnikov murdered Alyona he “flung the crosses on the old woman’s body and rushed back into the bedroom.” He has a clear disregard for God and the concept of religion, so Dostoevsky utilizes the character of Sonya to help serve Raskolnikov’s path to rebirth and redemption. The concept of religion strongly influences Sonya throughout the novel and helps her remain strong and faithful through the horrific things she has faced throughout her life. She is eventually able to help Raskolnikov identify some sort of faith to recognize his wrongdoings and redeem himself. It is only when he reaches this place of faith and religion that Raskolnikov is able to face his punishment to eventually return to society. Dostoevsky is showing that individuals cannot reach a higher level in society through violent actions or selfish motivations and interests. Raskolnikov originally thought that he could help society by committing murder, but comes to realize at the end of the novel that he can truly help society by living a life of faith and love.
Throughout the novel, Dostoevsky takes several strong stances on his political views and attitudes towards socialism. While he did believe that the impoverished deserved access to higher economic status, he rejects the traditional socialist ideas of how this is to be achieved. Through the portrayal of Katerina Marmeladov, Dostoevsky illustrates his belief that socialists should not focus their attention on material goods or social class, but rather the importance of the individual human person and their spiritual development. The character Raskolnikov is able to achieve spiritual redemption regardless of the crime that he committed. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment exhibits his views that a better society is not achieved through materialism or an exactly equal distribution of class and money, but rather through individual spiritual and emotional healing.
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